Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Tell Me A Story


I had a date last night. Well, a girl's night out. Jess and I met for appetizers at a favorite happy hour place. Wings and wine totally hit the spot. Then we made our way to the museum for our first Story Slam. The night's theme was tradition and seasonally apropos. Neither one of us threw our names in the hat. Yes, there's a hat. I actually told my story in the car on the way to meet Jess. It was a good one, but I know Li Bien needs more practice and polishing. It was too long, there were too many pauses and the moral of the story was a little more heavy-handed than necessary, but it had good bones and that's a start.

The crowd was warm and welcoming on the bitter night for those brave enough to get on stage. There were nine storytellers. I liked a few more than others, yet they all had their strengths and unique appeal. A couple were more confessional in tone while others were comedic. A few had elements of both revelation and farce. Dangerous Santa won, but others could have. In fact, they all did. They were all winners for having the courage to get up there and connect us with their honesty, their vulnerability, their candor.

That's what stories do. They bring us together in the same way they have for ages. We listen and learn that the differences that separate or distinguish us are nothing compared to all the ties that bind. To be a good human is to come with an open heart and mind to understand, empathize, celebrate and support. We smile, we shake our heads in affirmation, we laugh, we cry. We say I hear you and Me too and You're not alone. It's a beautiful thing...a gift to hear and be heard...a blessing to share your story.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

In the True Spirit of the Season

I was up a minute before my alarm rang...6:59 on the dot. I set my alarm on a Sunday morning because as I've confessed here over and over ad nauseam, I love the certain solitude of early mornings. I'm no longer a night person. There. I said it. Last night I struggled to stay awake for a movie. I lost. Then I literally couldn't read the last page and a half of a story I started. I also set my alarm because I had things to finish.

One of those things is a very important batch of chicken noodle soup. It's important because I plan to deliver it today to my new friend Martha. Martha is 89 years old and she lives in her own home. She's lived there for 58 years. She lives alone now and has for quite some time. Not surprising, she's lonely. She's also sick with a virus. We met Martha yesterday when we visited her to deliver a poinsettia from the church and some cookies from our kitchen. She was so touched and grateful for the visit, the goodies and the guys' snow shoveling. The thing is though, she touched each of us with her vulnerability and strength. I can't stop thinking about her. When I asked if she needed any groceries, you'd have thought I gave her a winning lottery ticket, but of course, she doesn't want money. I got the sense that it's been a long time since she's received a kind or thoughtful gesture. A single tear rolled down her cheek. That tear broke my heart. It broke my heart wide open. She was a little embarrassed. It's clear she was a stoic, saucy woman in her day. She reminded me so much of my Grandma Rose and Aunt Helen so maybe Teddy is right: I'm attached.

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Martha was happy to see me this morning and especially excited about the soup and the hot Polish ham and rolls I picked up on my way. I almost walked by the bakery when I saw the tour bus outside and the wall to wall people inside, but I had a hunch that she might appreciate this Sunday treat. I'm glad I waited because I was right. She had the cookie tin washed and waiting for me and lit up when I suggested I fill it again. I cannot believe she ate them all, but maybe. She wanted to pay me, but I told her that wasn't necessary. She asked me why I was being so kind to her. I told her that I was quite sure in her 89 years she'd been kind to many people. She accepted. I accepted her hug.

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Sometimes the best gifts we give aren't flashy or expensive. They aren't limited in number or on back-order. They don't need batteries or come with lengthy manuals. They come from the heart and they multiply miraculously. They remind us that smiles and hugs are free and kindness begets kindness. The most valuable gifts lift up the giver as well as the receiver. These are the kinds of gifts I want to give.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Grateful Friday

Today I give thanks for...

Witnessing night give way to day. Being awake and alive to see the moon in the west pass the torch to the sun in the east.


These photos were taken just minutes apart this morning. 


I say, "There shall be showers of blessing." Ezekiel 34:26

Today it's snow showers. The sky is heavy, the air is cold, yet I am warm and light.


Ted for waking me up last night after I fell asleep on the couch and insisting I go to bed. He came down after brushing his teeth to rouse me a second time using my own words to convince me that I'd have a better night's sleep in my own bed. 

I did a little more baking yesterday. I hadn't exactly planned to. I was procrastinating other things. It's okay...tis' the season. It was a bit of a cluster you know what. I added a cup of butter instead of a stick to a recipe essentially doubling it so I had to run to the store for more peanut butter. Then I started another batch only to discover I needed more graham crackers so I went back again. We are all stocked up on Buckeyes and Pecan Pralines. And after 35 years plus of making these simple 4 ingredient favorites, I finally tweaked and perfected the process.



Family Jeopardy matches before dinner.

Cookies and coffee in Christmas mugs for breakfast. It's a December thing.

Fred. He's another December thing. Lily isn't too interested in him this year. I didn't really think she would be, but I wasn't sure. He's another vestige of childhood so hard to let go.


A stack of holiday movies waiting for me at the library. Yep, December thing.

Cat company. I am being completely candid about the fact that without my two guys, I'd be lonely home alone all day.



This sexy beast beef. Okay...it's really not at all sexy. In fact, unless it's properly seasoned, seared and then cooked low and slow, it's tough and chewy and tasteless. But my guy nailed it even when he was feeling under the weather and not able to enjoy it.


Advent. I find myself going to church this time of year not because I have to or need to, but because I want to. Amen.


Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Things That Remain


It's snowing! Just sweet and soft flurries to start the day. I slept for 10 hours last night. I cannot explain my exhaustion, or perhaps I can and don't want to. Anyway, the cats are cozy, the carols are ringing and I'm sitting here writing and singing.

When I left off yesterday, I was heading to my middle school for Lily's basketball game. The Bulls versus the Whippets now better known as the Junior Greyhounds. I asked Ted to join me and he said yes. Just about gave me a heart attack, but then he started asking annoying questions in an annoyed tone like how long will it be and where is it and well, you get the idea. One step forward, another step back. Nevertheless, I think he enjoyed it. I did.  His sister sure appreciated it.



As we approached, I saw myself on the very last time I set foot in this school. Spring 1983, 8th grade graduation. I'm flanked by Megan and Jenny. We have on matching dresses. They're different shades of purple, but the exact same style: drop-waisted mini numbers. One of my parents took a picture of us outside before the ceremony. They didn't know if they got a good one before the days of digital photography, but they did. It captured us then, there.



Before the game started I left Ted in the gym and took a little tour of the school. It hasn't changed, but then there is only so much you can do with a landlocked circular building. I stood in the center of the pit. It's sort of the heart of the school. It was filled with tables, but that's not how I remember it. I remember when it was transformed into a dance floor several much-anticipated Friday nights a year. I could almost see myself dancing to Stairway to Heaven. It was a long song so it was important to dance it with your number one crush, or the guy you were going steady with or wanted to date next. We were serial daters back then. A deep romance could be derailed by an innocent game of spin the bottle, a three way call, an intercepted note. 

While I was watching the game, I kept having flashbacks. I could see us lined up for square dancing. We all proclaimed to hate that unit, but secretly we loved it because it involved bodily contact. All those allemandes and promenades. At one point, I convinced myself that the scorekeeper was my old gym teacher, Mrs. McDonald. Then I realized she'd be 75 now and this woman was my age. Time was playing tricks on my mind, going back and forth, standing still.

I texted Jenny a picture and told her I felt like busting into a sideline cheer:


We are the mighty mighty mighty whippets
We ain't bad cuz' we know we're good
We're gonna walk on you like we walk on wood!
That's right!



If I remember correctly, she came up with that one and although we never understood how one walks on wood, we cheered it loud and proud from the sidelines in our Shorewood sweaters. 

Lily had a good game. She had lots of playing time and played more aggressive defense. Coach called her out for her offense too. He pointed out that it may be the last game, but she finally took a shot.

I wonder what she'll remember about this time in her life. These people and places.

Coach was surprised to see Teddy towering over him after only three years. Three years is a lifetime when you're 16. Everything changes so often and quickly when you're a teenager, but there are always things that remain.
  

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Years are Minutes

So yesterday I did finally get out of the house. I had a little shopping to do. Don't we all!? It's my goal to purchase at least one gift a day. Yesterday was a good day: I picked up three. Today without leaving home I bought three more. I love Amazon. Mike and I have a shopping day planned Monday, and I have to arrange times to take both Teddy and Lily on sprees. Although he announced last night that he's making his gifts this year. I think he may have been serious, yet I'll be shocked if he actually goes through with it and I'll probably laugh my you know what off if he gives the guys handmade cement planters and plants. This weekend she put her cache of church raffle tickets in bags containing items she thought would make good gifts: diamond earrings for me, Bucks tickets for her Dad and brother, and various gift certificates for various family members. She didn't win. Teddy put all his tickets on a $200 gift certificate for a Brazilian steak house because it had one of the highest values and because there were no tickets in the bag so highest reward and best odds. He planned to sell it for a little less than it was worth. He didn't win either. He always wins this raffle. She's got a soft heart and he has the heart of a capitalist. I love them both.

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When I was in elementary school, my dad's employer held a Secret Santa event every year. It was in the toy department of one of their stores fully stocked for the holidays and decked out too. Think Gimbels in Elf. It was sort of magical to my 7 year-old eyes. Little elves would take us through the pop-up shop and we'd pick out gifts. Most everything was a quarter. I always bought someone this little porcelain hand that had a clip on the index finger for attaching reminders. My brother bought my dad a soap on the rope every year. After we crossed everyone off our list and spent our $5, we got to gorge on Christmas cookies, watch Christmas movies and see Santa.

Santa was my dad's friend Jerry. I never figured it out until years later when he came to my aunt's to surprise my toddler cousin. He was dressed in the same costume. Jerry has a beard, but it's dark and impossible to disguise, and he's as skinny as a beanpole in the middle of a drought. No amount of padding could hide the fact that he was a bag of bones under the velvet and fur.

The funny thing I remember from that visit was that five-year-old GiGi looked at Santa with a skeptical eye while my 75 year-old Grandpa had a twinkle in his.

That costume is in my basement now and Jerry is in the hospital. Gina'a grown up and Grandpa's gone.

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I came home after shopping and got started baking. My guy needed Christmas cookies for a holiday party at work today. He asked me to just buy some, but I thought it would be so much more special to make some. I ended up cranking out five batches. I made my aunt's Kris Kringles (they taste so much better when she makes them), Lily's favorite Chinese Cookies that I've been making since the 70s, and three new recipes: a potato chip cookie that reminded Jess and I of Pecan Sandies, a chocolate chip cherry chunk cookie that was delicious with a cup of coffee this morning, and a cream cheese cookie that I think the squirrels will enjoy because they eat just about anything. I still have to make Buckeyes and Oreo Balls, which are Teddy's favorites, and the Pecan Pralines Mike likes. I always make a batch of gingerbread because...nostalgia. I imagine I'll add between two and ten other varieties between now and Christmas because...time. I plan to put together tins to take to housebound parishioners when we deliver poinsettias and communion on Saturday morning. Hopefully, none of them have nut allergies or diabetes. If so, they can feed them to their squirrels or neighbors.

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When my brother and I outgrew the annual Secret Santa event, we started baking Christmas cookies as gifts. I got the idea when I came across my Mom's annual Electric Company cookie book. My grandma came up with the idea that we should spend a day in her catering kitchen baking. Never mind that said kitchen was in a Jewish temple. The massive ovens worked just the same and held 5 times as many. It was a brilliant idea because my mom was not a baker and she detested messes. Plus we got to spend time with Grandma Rose.

By the way, my grandma was devoutly Catholic, yet she made the best hamantaschen, latkes and noodle kugel. 

The new cookies I tried are from this year's we Energies cookbook. They still print it. I still get it.

Grandma's gone 10 years tomorrow. This is my ninth Christmas without my Mom.

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Jess called to invite me out for a drink. I'm so tickled that she's using words like festive. It's not always in her lexicon even at this time of year so I wanted to say yes!, but I was covered in flour. She decided to come to Casa Wags instead. We had a most enjoyable and even festive happy hour. We played carols and chatted. Chatted about heavy stuff and light stuff too. Lily and Peanut hung out with us the whole eve. We played some games...had some laughs. Teddy came home from working out and started serenading us. I served her cookies hot out of the oven as an appetizer and a bowl of steamy soup for dinner. It was all good. And happy.

St. Nick visited over night. He filled the stocking for cats and kids. The cats love their 50 cent mice. They played so hard that they're crashed out right now. One cozy in bed and one precariously under the dining room tree. No matter how many times I shoo him off this console table, he sneaks back again. I give up, but heaven help us if he breaks a single one of my mom's ornaments. The kids were pleased with their loot too. He took candy to school and she took some new slime. Lily told me that she loves St. Nick maybe more than Santa. I love it too. there's no pressure and no competition. Every little thing delights because there are just a few favorites. My favorite are the ornaments they get in their stockings each year. They tell the story of their lives: of who they are, what they love, what they did. This year he found a camera and she received a cactus for the tree.

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Our stockings were never roomy enough to fit all the gifts St. Nick left. My Mom had a terrible time keeping surprises. Gifts are surprises. Anything she'd bought for Christmas by December 5th would be waiting for us December 6th. I know I get my tendency to go a little overboard with St. Nick from her, and I'm totally OK with it. So are my kids.

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I'm going to bundle up and get outside for some fresh air. I'll take a break from carols and listen to my book. Then later today I'll go to Lily's last basketball game of the season. It's at my old intermediate school. I haven't been back there in like 35 years. I'm oddly looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to this whole month too even as I am trying to sit with and savor the moments.








Tuesday, December 5, 2017

be.here.now


One of the first things I do on these December mornings is plug in the trees. There's something about the twinkling lights that sets the right tone. This morning the sky just before sunrise caught my eye. It was dynamic. Expressive. Resplendent. I went out to take a picture knowing it would only capture a trace of what I witnessed. I opened the door and immediately confirmed that the cold front came through over night. The whipping wind was sobering. Abrasive. Forewarning. I heard it raging all night long. It made me feel thankful for my cozy house...my shelter from the storm.

And storm it did. Thunder and lightning in December. I stepped out after dark to take in the completed decorations. The air was oddly moist and warm. I went out to the street to get the passersby view. I approved. We're not the Griswolds. Our approach is less is more, classy, calm.


Cozy too. I never left the house yesterday. I planned to, but then I didn't want to. So I didn't. Coziness is hard to resist. Candace came for coffee before she went to work and we lessened our loads. It's what friends do: purge, listen, advise. We confirmed we both had better days because of our cup of coffee. I made chicken stock, which became chicken enchilada soup for dinner. Soup is love in a bowl. I played Christmas music all day as I finally decorated my dining room tree with my Mom's ornaments. It's something I do alone year after year. Well, I don't really feel alone. I always feel my Mom's presence. And I feel peace.


After school and sports, the kids helped me put ornaments on our living room tree. We no longer have room for all the beautiful memories. I consider that a lucky problem to have. I spared them all the stories. They know them. 



I always find myself slowing down and staying in during the month of December. Yes, it's a month of celebration, but that which I most revere is right here.

Monday, December 4, 2017

weekending

even though i'm not working right now, i still look forward to the weekends.
i know it's much to do with the fact that my family is home.
i've had no trouble filling my days, but i have had a little guilt.
it feels indulgent to be spending so much time reading and writing and cooking and decorating.
but it also feels like a gift.
it's funny how i was still exhausted come friday night, which i guess makes sense since i've been getting up early and staying up late and filling all the moments in between.
we got take-out from our new favorite chinese restaurant.
it was mike's first experience and he was a big fan of the egg rolls and the level of spice.
i literally ate dinner and then crashed on the couch after finishing the last two stories in All These Wonders for book club.
the benefit of an extra early bedtime was getting up with the sun saturday morning.
i had time for a walk before book club.
first body and then mind.
it was our second meeting and i thought just as meaningful as the first.
everyone liked the book i selected and picked different stories that deeply resonated with them.
i'm afraid i picked the next book as well.
it will be one of my new year's resolutions to quiet my inner english major and be less bossy at book club.
jess took lily out for an evening of shopping and dinner.
mike and i went to a badger party with old friends and met some new friends.
unfortunately the team lost, but i count connecting with friends a win.
teddy spent the weekend working out, eating out, and hanging out with friends.
i really didn't feel like going to church sunday morning, and although i was up, i was too lazy to make it to our normal 9 o' clock mass.
i got lily to sunday school and then headed over to the public market for some caffeine.
i treated myself to what is known as a my buddy.
it's a delicious almond/vanilla cappuccino.
the market was festive and slammed.
before i left the house, i peaked in on ted to let him know that i expected to see him at 11:30 mass.
i didn't have high hopes because i knew he went back to sleep in his cozy cave.
lily and i agreed it was a balcony day and lo and behold teddy snuck in beside us before the presentation hymn was over.
it was a beautiful first mass of advent.
i so enjoyed the choir and especially their rendition of o come o come emmanuel.
it's my seasonal favorite.
ted declined my offer to buy lunch.
he had places to go and people to see.
lily was game so she and i went out and had ok food, but a fine time.
later in the afternoon we went to the mall to do a little christmas shopping.
we were home in time to help with sunday dinner.
mike prepared his first brisket and it was delicious.
it was a good and full weekend from beginning...


to end...




Friday, December 1, 2017

Grateful Friday

Today I give thanks for...

Peanut and Tigger on tree watch. 


They were sleeping peacefully and, therefore, had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the tree was lying on the floor the next morning. 


The tree wasn't decorated yet, so there were no casualties. They're like little kids. They get so excited with all the decorations.

Their new favorite sunning spot. I'm most grateful that there are no ornaments on this tree yet. 



Alexa has not been listening to me lately, and then the other day she switched from the Christmas station I commanded to some random station. It's as if she has a mind of her own and can also read my mind. It was a trip down memory lane with tunes by Boz Scaggs, Sade, The Little River Band. Every song reminded me of someone.

She's getting more comfortable on the court.


Team huddles.


Teddy is finally driving the Saab. He's mastered stick to the point we feel comfortable with him taking the car on his own.

Next week's weather is predicted to be more seasonal. This is the one brief snowfall we had a couple weeks ago. It was so pretty.


These two bathing beauts.


A boy, his cat and his camera.


Parade watching company.


 Holiday lights and moonlit nights.


Excavating mice (stuffed) and balls (hair and bouncy).


My Dad's turkey and my step-mom's cranberry bread.


A hike in the middle of the day in the middle of the week with Jess. It was good for my mind, body and spirit.








Happy hour at Candace's studio. She finished my portrait and I was blown away by her talent and also the sweet little symbol she incorporated in the work.


A December bucket list.

A This is Us marathon. I was behind several episodes so I enjoyed a good cry fest this morning.

Now I'm off to take a walk on this glorious 50 degree day.