I was scouting the aisles in a local big box store, doing some general stock-up shopping, when I caught a glint of sparkling color at the far end of the store. This was back in late October. My heart jumped: Christmas “stuff!” I bee-lined towards the shimmering silvers and robust reds, ribbons and bows, ornaments of all colors, stockings and stuffers, wreaths and trees, snowmen and Santas. I really love Christmas. Yup…even in October.
(photo - me, 1950's Christmas, Eaton's Dept store)
I’m aware that I’m going against the popular grain here, but the onslaught of retail Christmas paraphernalia doesn’t strike me as an ostentatious display of capitalism. Instead, it’s a ticket back to the magical toylands created by the big-city department stores of my childhood. Christmas displays make me nostalgic, even though nothing today can compare with a 1950/60s Eaton’s (Canada) Department store Christmas.
We’d start with their spectacular window displays, then head inside. I’d try not to fidget on elevator ride up to the toy department. The gloved attendant would open the doors, creak open the gates, and there it was: a holiday wonderland resplendent with animated displays, towering stacks of toys and dolls, and a child-size train that wound through a veritable Santa’s workshop.
Despite the richness around us, our own lists to Santa were modest and reasonable. That’s just the way it was back then. In the midst of all this kiddie-land wonder, we were instilled with the practice of giving. At the tender age of five or six, with money tucked into my small purse, I was let into a gated shopping area designed specifically for children. A child-friendly clerk helped tiny shoppers select perfectly priced gifts for parents and friends. Was I being indoctrinated into consumerism, or was I being taught about the joy of giving? That’s one for the psychologists, but to this day I love shopping to find just the right gift for someone.
But, back to my first sighting of Christmas weeks before Thanksgiving dinner had even been digested. Once I roused myself from an indulgent bout of reminiscing, I had an epiphany of sorts. I decided that we have been looking at this all wrong—this Christmas-too-soon thing.
Around the rest of the world, there is no conflict. Christmas decorations appear in most countries in late September. Even in Canada, where Thanksgiving is celebrated as well, the holiday falls during the harvest season, in October, before Halloween. So, here’s my thinking.
Maybe we should simply view the holiday season as a whole unit, a play in three acts. Act 1 - Halloween and/or All Saints Day, when we give treats to strangers and remember those who have passed; Act II, a national day of Thanksgiving to prepare us for the season of giving; and Act III comprised of Winter Solstice/Chanukah/Christmas. Each person/family can emphasize whichever of the three acts speaks most directly to their hearts. If we all just focus on enjoying the holidays, being thankful, and balancing our “wants” with giving, why should it matter when we or the retailers haul out those boxes of holiday decorations? Just a thought.
But, before we start mailing our letters to Santa early, maybe we should all look in our garages. Okay, socks wear out and must be replaced, but in general, most of us have enough stuff. If the retail holiday craziness offends you, hark back to your Thanksgiving thank-you’s and rethink. Celebrate Act III as a time to make memories with friends and family; give much-needed financial add to an animal rescue and/or give a homeless dog or cat their forever home, be extra polite and courteous to that harried retail worker, and tip wait staff decently, create Christmas memories for the needier children in our community and hit up those retail stores for Toys for Tots. You can make it work without grumbling. And don’t forget to give the best gift of all, the gift of your time.
Happy Act II Thanksgiving to all of you.
I've just returned home from an international writer’s conference, which was held in Surrey, B.C., Canada (a suburb of Vancouver.) Writers of all genres, authors, editors, agents, etc. from all over the globe participated. Quite an impressive collection of creativity. Wandering the crowded halls between workshops and lectures was like being back on a college campus. And happily, I didn’t stick out like an aging, molting hen in a sea of fluffy chickens like I feared I would. I blended quite nicely. I was just one more color among a rainbow of threads weaving together the tapestry of this multi-cultural, age-inclusive event.
Before I left on this trip, I was dragging my considerable behind. The older I get the more I grasp the meaning behind an old saying of my mother’s: a change is as good as a rest. Prior to leaving for Vancouver, I had zero energy and less motivation. Even thinking about what to pack was draining. But, surprise, surprise—being thrust out of my comfort zone (I’m not the most adventurous traveler) and dropped into a totally different environment turned out to be more invigorating than uncomfortable. I came home mentally stimulated and physically pumped (okay…aching) from all the walking we did in Vancouver.
Take-away Numero Uno: When you feel the most sluggish, what you need isn’t a nap but a change of scene and direction.
Seems my spouse was having a similar experience. There must be some validity to another old saying: absence makes the heart grow fonder. If not fonder exactly, then more appreciative. My husband was left at home for a week with three demanding pets, a large garden to hand-water, laundry to keep up with, meals to figure out, and all the basic minutia that fill up a day of domesticity. Nothing like having to take over some of your partner’s responsibilities to fully understand why they moan about having little-to-no time to pursue personal interests, like writing blog posts. Right? It’s been a while for sure.
Our little section of the planet shifted on its axis while I was out of the country. I came home to find David cooking! Seriously. This man, who thinks cooking is heating up a boxed macaroni and cheese “dinner,” pulled out one of my recipes and made an amazing Italian beef stew! Household tasks that had long been put off were tackled, and now he’s announced that he’s willing to cook dinner maybe one night a week. Now for me, THAT is a coming-home gift of major proportions!
Take-away Numero Dos: Time is a wonderful gift. Time to oneself is the best gift ever.
Seems that we’ve both been breaking new ground. While D was home re-evaluating our household roles, I was stepping into new territory as well. Not only was this my first experience at a writer’s conference, I haven’t flown anywhere since 2016, and I haven’t traveled out of the country since 2002. Everything has changed. The airports have gone all techie. Kiosks! Passport readers that take one’s photo. Apps on mobile devices. Yikes. Totally intimidating. What saved my nervous traveler’s ass on this trip was my experienced traveling companion (thank you, Eva.) Who knows, after watching and learning, maybe next time I will be able to navigate the process myself. Maybe (fingers crossed.)
But here’s the best part. Flying north in the early evening, I was stunned at how the sunset stretched endlessly for miles and miles on the western horizon. This was not the limited flare of red and orange we glimpse from our static locations. This was a blaze of color that went on seemingly for hours. It was awe-inspiring. It changed my perspective. There’s nothing like being on the other side of the clouds, with an endless sunset stretching across the horizon, to open one’s eyes to the bigger picture.
Which brings me to –
Take-away Numero Tres: So many of our limitations are self-inflicted. If we strive to move past them, we can extend our personal sunsets indefinitely, enriching our lives with an abundance of color, light, and joy.
I might just become a frequent flyer!
This 50th is a milestone, but don’t rush out to buy me a card. It’s not my 50th birthday I’m celebrating, although I wouldn’t mind flipping back the calendar. BTW – the photo IS me on my 50th, mumble, mumble years ago. THIS milestone, dear friends, is my 50th blog post, and no, sadly, there won’t be cake.
Been reminiscing. How did this blog come about, you ask? What? You say you didn’t ask?! Well, I’m going to tell you anyway because I’m in that kind of mood, so pour another glass of wine and hang in there with me.
I remember hearing the word blog and not having a clue what it meant. Luckily, I have many younger, techie savvy friends and family, who let me draft and take advantage of their slipstream. (Been watching too much Tour de France.) The word blog, I discovered, is the truncation of the word weblog, which was used back in the 1990s when info found on internet/web was logged. Yes, I really Goggled. I have a need to know. That’s how I roll.
So, sometime around 2007, the friends I chatted with in an online book-related group began to migrate over to something called Live Journal. This, I learned, was a digital journal, or blog. I checked it out and loved what I saw. Everyone was sharing on a more personal level, posting pics, commenting on each other’s posts, and really getting to know one another. I couldn’t get started fast enough. With Live Journal’s tools I was able to create a page and start joining the fun. But, all too soon my LJ friends were migrating to this new site called Facebook. Had me singing Carole King’s lyrics, “doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore.” I shut-up (can’t sing), sighed, and followed, but boy, I really missed the fun I had writing all those Live Journal posts.
Meanwhile, work on my novel was in progress. When it was close to final edits and revisions, those in the know pointed out that I needed a website. I guess authors need a “presence.” Point taken. But what I really wanted was a blog like the old LJ where I could post my thoughts and share my take on life. A compromise was reached with my talented, techie website designer, Paula Johnson. (Who is also a writer/author in her own right and host of more than one website.) A website I would have, but the URL would open to the first “page”, which would be my blog. Tabs were created for pages about my writing and the novel. I happily wrote my introductory blog post September of 2018.
Why do I blog? Been asking myself that question. I have to admit to having a greater-than-average need to share. Long gone are the days of writing and receiving long, newsy letters, or sitting around with friends drinking coffee or wine and sharing our take on the world. And friends are now spread out far and wide. I’m also someone who makes sense of things by putting words to paper (so to speak). I love to know whether anyone else can relate, or provide a stimulating and different point of view, or share a similar experience/story that we can laugh or cry over. Maybe I just want to leave a handprint in the wet cement before it dries – my own version of “I was here.” Once on the internet, it’s out there forever, right?
So, for the moment I’ll continue to blog and share. I hope you’ll continue to comment, whether here in the comments section, or via FB, text, or email. Your thoughts are always welcome. And…you know what? I’ve changed my mind. There should be cake. I’m on a mission to track down some cake. Wish you could join me.
Here’s the header from my old LiveJournal Blog, “Under the Tucson Sun with Hotflash” (my original screen name on the BookCrossing site)
Yup. You’re right. That's a photo of a pack rat midden. Whose? Mine, sort of. It’s snuggled up against the east wall in the side yard, next to a shed that’s next to the wood pile. And why on earth, you ask, is it still there? Why haven’t we destroyed it and annihilated the inhabitant. Why indeed? Nothing short of the current, political climate polarizes southwestern desert dwellers as much as their stand on pack rats. But here’s a quote to live by: a rat is neither good nor evil, it does what a rat has to do.”
Basically, pack rats are just little creatures trying to live their lives the way they were designed to live. That’s just fine and dandy you say, but not in one’s backyard. I get that, I really do, but then there are rats—nasty, city garbage-can rats—and then there are pack rats—desert creatures who are the homesteaders and hoarders of the animal kingdom. You have to admit, they are industrious, interesting little creatures, even entertaining. (But even at our house it’s not all fun and games. We’ve had pack rats charge up a drain pipe and make a home in our attic—an issue still be to resolved.)
But… let me share my first pack rat encounter with you: A few years ago, I was on my way to a breakfast cookout when I noticed what looked like mouse droppings on the floor of my car. Odd. Hours after returning home, I went into the garage to get something out of the back seat of my car. I opened the door, leaned in, and immediately caught sight of the rear end of a very large rodent, back feet flying, diving under the front car seat. I sprang backwards and nearly cold-conked myself on the car door frame. Holy crap. This was one huge rat creature (I later learned it was a pack rat), and it must have ridden along with me all morning. Not the best feeling.
My husband immediately placed a baited, live trap in the back seat of the car. Hours later, still no rat. I don’t remember why, but I opened the console glove box and was met with a very cute, cartoon rat face and two, very dark, eyeballs staring up at me. Faster than I could react, the creature spun around, and the next thing I saw was a tail disappearing into the back of the glove box and up into the console. Now what?
I gave it some time, went back into the garage, and peeked through the car window. The glove box door was still open, and there was the pack rat, curled up, her back to me, sound asleep on a pile of Kleenex. I wondered if maybe she was depressed about being stuck in the car. But, no time for rat analysis. I quietly scrounged up two pairs of heavy gardening gloves, put both on, carefully opened the car door, and GRABBED Ms. Rat. She didn't even see it coming. She slipped and slid around under the gloves and the layers of Kleenex I’d scooped up with her, struggled free, dropped to the garage floor, and ran under the car. Not much left to do but open the garage door enough for her to escape. The main thing was, the rat intruder was out of my car. Never saw her in the car again. Probably traumatized.
My next encounter happened when I accidently disturbed a midden, again in my backyard. By the next day, the clever little occupant had circled her midden, several feet out, with thin branches/twigs of mesquite, laid thorn side up! She created a booby trap. Don’t tell me these are not intelligent creatures. Now I know these rats are also super destructive and will rip things up to find soft furnishings for their little houses. I’ve heard all the horror stories about them eating through the insulation around wiring in cars. And I truly do know I can’t continue to let this most recent rodent resident continue to live in close proximity to our house. Again, we still have to deal with whatever damage there might be in the attic. And…my husband and I don’t share the same attitude about pack rats. Maybe I saw too many Mickey Mouse cartoons when I was little, not to mention those adorable chipmunks Chip and Dale!
Removal, being shipped out to nice desert location, is most likely in this rodent’s future. We’ve done this before, and didn’t expect them back. Just can’t kill them. I’ve decided that rather than trying to defend my position on humanitarian terms, I’ll just become a Buddhist. Most people accept behaviors if you state that you are simply following the dogma of your religion. Might work. OOOMMMM and out.
There’s always room for one more, isn’t there? And I don’t mean at the dinner table. Although, yes, I have to admit that I overcook, and if truth be told, there usually is room for at least one more place setting on any given day. But what I’m really talking about here is a penchant for collecting. Collecting what, you ask? Anything from postcards, to earrings, to foreign coins, to souvenir shot glasses, to scarves, shoes—you know who you are—and on down the line to English tea cups and techie toys. I won’t even delve into the psyche of those of you well-meaning and loving souls whose cats number in the double digits. Nope. Not going there.
Most of us collect something, even if the collection was, at first, unintended. Some things just draw the eye repeatedly, and ignite that fire to possess. For me, it’s earrings. Lovely little bits of art, or creatively set gem stones, or even just the perfection of plain gold hoops. No matter how many pairs I have, I can’t stop myself from checking out the earrings at every art fair and gift shop. Besides being the finishing touch to an outfit, they always fit, right? And that’s no small thing these days.
But I think my strongest passion/addiction is my attraction to plants. No matter how crowded my garden may seem to my non-gardening friends, there is always room for one more. I truly don’t know how it happens. I arrive at the nursery with the best of intentions and a promise to my husband that I won’t go crazy, but somehow, I end up pulling into the driveway with the back of the SUV packed to the rafters with green, growing thing and extra bags of potting soil. We won’t even get into my new obsession for plant containers, especially wildly colored Talavera (made in Mexico.)
As soon as I walk into a nursery, my energy level rises. I relish the scent of damp, earthy soil. The tables of bedding plants draw me like I’m being towed on a lifeline. I’m a crow, but rather than being attracted to shiny things (the exception being diamonds, of course), I’m drawn to interesting leaf shapes and the colors of blooms. It’s almost like being in a room full of puppies! I fight a rising desire to possess and take care of these living things. I want them ALL.
I hate to admit it, but too often my eyes are bigger than my stomach; or shall I say my ability to do the physical work of planting is lagging way behind my physical strength and energy level. This is relatively new, and I don’t like it one little bit. After planting only two new plants this morning, and doing a bit of trimming and tidying, every joint in my aging body hurts. So, while surrounded with life bursting out everywhere in my garden, I find myself faced with my own mortality and reality of being…I can barely type the word…old! But, old or not, you will have to pry my pruning shears and spades out of my gnarled fingers before I will ever give in and give up gardening. I’m not sure at what point passion morphs into obsession, but I’m sure I’d make a good case study.
Meanwhile, take time to smell the roses. Seriously! And while you’re at it plant a couple of cannas for me (my latest obsession.) And next time you pop in to Tucson Botanical gardens, check out the earrings in the gift shop. Tell them I sent you.
I hear the wind before I feel it. I step onto the patio, and wind-whipped leaves swirl around my feet. The unexpected drop in temperature hits my face like a splash of ice-cold water. Grey clouds drift in from the west, beating the ubiquitous desert sun into hiding. I pull my worn cardigan tighter around me. The scent of rain, maybe snow, permeates the air.
I grab an armful of kindling from the small stack next to the firewood and twist the door open with the tip of my fingers. I push it shut with a hip. The kindling falls and scatters on the hearth. I reach into the fireplace and top the scrunched newspapers with some starter twigs, and then flick a lit match against the paper. The big screen TV draws my attention.
US warns Ukraine that Russian invasion is imminent....
I hit mute, leaving the news to scroll soundlessly across the bottom of the screen. Serious faces stare back at me—muted mouths moving. Two years of disruptive domestic politics and the ever-present fear of the pandemic has pushed me to the edge. I can’t bear to hear whatever it is the talking heads want to tell me. Hopelessness descends; a heaviness like liquid mercury filters into every cell. Day-to-day life has only just begun to resume normalcy. Is it time to admit defeat? We are such a failure as a species. The pond scum rises to the surface but we neglect to skim it off. The scum always reigns supreme.
Biden: Sanctions declared against Soviets....
I slide onto the couch and pull the soft cotton-weave throw around my shoulders. Breath: slowly in, slowly out. I pick up my book and snuggle into the safety of escapist fiction. The story unfolds in a small English village where hollyhocks and sweet peas bloom, and neighbors stop to talk about nothing on the cobblestoned streets. The most pressing news is how the new minister's wife will manage the pending bake sale at the Anglican Church.
Outside the wind tests the strength of my newly planted backyard sapling. Through the semi-opened wood blinds I watch it whip back and forth, more of a struggle than a dance. Holding its own. Fighting to be resilient. My eyes stray to the flickering screen.
Boris Johnson said the international shock of a Russian attack would "echo around the world", as the UK urged Moscow to engage with talks to prevent a conflict....
The announcers' unsmiling faces exacerbate the grim theme unfolding. Unthinking, I lay the book on my lap, hinged open, pages down. Nothing distracts from this feeling of dread. Have I lived too long? Is too long when everything inside you goes quiet when you realize nothing you’ve done matters, nothing is ever going to change. Protests, letters, marches, sit-ins, registering voters, Vietnam, the Middle East, Desert Storm, The Gulf War, school shootings, the environment…. We are failing as a species. Worse, our species is failing those dependent upon us.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian forces are trying to seize the Chernobyl power plant….
The sticks of mesquite atop the balled paper catch, sending up reddish-orange flames. As I
step onto the patio for larger logs, the wind whips the French door out of my hand. It slams against the stucco wall. One pane of glass cracks. Just one. I pull two logs off the firewood stack and add them to the fire. Outside a gloomy darkness settles in. The fireplace charges the dim room with a false sense of coziness.
Dozens of soldiers are killed as Ukraine tries to mount an all-out attack….
I should turn on some lights. It’s too dark now to read. Grabbing the soft throw, I turn off the TV and sit on the floor with my back against the couch. I pull the cottony blanket over my head and hide in the safety of my shroud.
To quote Bob Dylan (yes, aging myself), the times they are a changing’...but does that mean we have to as well?
Pictured is my grandmother at 71, in a sharp (for the 1970's) pantsuit, requisite cigarette between her fingers. Even as my mother and grandmother aged, they rarely looked dowdy. Struggling to follow their lead, with the exception of the ciggies, every season I pull one or two ideas from the current offerings to incorporate into my wardrobe. Picking and choosing from what the designers and “influencers” are touting keeps me reasonably up-to-date without (1) looking like an aging hooker or (2) looking like I’m competing with my best friend’s granddaughter. I don’t pretend to be anything but the age I am, but I hope to never get caught schlepping around in muumuus, polyester elastic-waist pants, or in fuzzy-wuzzy slippers with the heels worn down. But, you gotta do what works for you. No judgements here.
Jeans keep me feeling young, or I guess youngish. Denim, the miracle fabric, has a girdle affect on one’s stomach! Anyway, I recently placed an order with my favorite jean vendor, "Not Your Daughter’s Jeans." Luckily they had the hard-to-find, light-wash denim in stock.
When I received the order, the fabric looked damaged, worse than a factory second. It was snagged and ripped, and then the “ripped” sections were badly top-stitched together. This is not what I’ve learned to expect from this vendor. Something was amiss. Of course, a call to customer service was in order. I was sure this fabric lot was a mistake, and I could get a rapid credit and exchange. Turns out—couldn’t believe what I was told--the jeans were SUPPOSED to look that way? !! WTH? Keep in mind that this company is “NOT Your Daughter’s Jeans. Evidently, this type of denim is called “distressed”. I bloody don’t think so. Call a spade and spade. Defective is defective. It was me that was distressed! Again, WTH? Dismay doesn’t begin to sum up how I felt.
No, I don’t live in a vacuum. I am sadly aware of the trend towards parading around in ripped jeans. Jeans that, in my opinion, a homeless person would pass on. Even worse, it turns out that companies charge a fat little price to sell a product that, years ago, wouldn’t have made it to the shelves of the seconds stores. Every day I see people in jeans that hang together by threads. It’s an unattractive enough look on those whose great muscle tone and supple skin peek through the tears. However, on those not in great shape, young or old, the look just comes across and as a tasteless attempt to make the wearer look Instagram-worthy and on trend. Doesn’t anyone have a full-length mirror in their home anymore? Reality check.
Just after I cooled off from the denim fiasco, I came across a social media article about the “old” (meaning out-of-fashion) standards for entertaining guests in one’s home. It seems that simple gestures like greeting one’s guests at the door, hanging up their jackets rather than throwing them over the back of a chair, planning the guest list with an eye to compatibility and variety, setting a nice table with—gasp--candles, and the worst offender of all, mailing out invitations, are signals that you are behind the times. Bloody hell! Irritated to the max by this one. Exactly when did graciousness go out of style? In this case, I’ll happily abstain from being on-trend.
And did you know (another annoying social media news bite) that just about every hairstyle that is flattering to the over sixty-five crowd is now verboten and off-trend? Didn’t anyone tell these style gurus that older faces need a bit of lift in the hairstyle department? We need softness, layers, and often a bit of teasing to add fullness. Yes. I said it out loud. The forbidden word: teasing. Take away my teasing comb and my hairspray and you’ll get a more than a taste of how much fire is left in this old furnace.
I swear I am trying to age gracefully, and I’ll stay in the game to one degree or another; but, it sure sounds I’m well on my way to making it onto every fashionista/influencer’s
“what not to do” list. So be it. As Bob Dylan’s the times they are a changin’...” lyrics keep running through my head, I realize I am beginning to care less and less about keeping up, if that means lowering my standards. The times are changing alright, but not for the better, and I think my gearshift is permanently stuck in reverse. I can live with that.
Let's see what this season's runway brings us.
My mother in the early 1960s
Christmas/holiday cards are long gone, the tree is bedecked and sparkling; the front yard glimmers with lights, and I’ve begun the holiday baking. I’m now sprawled on the couch, glass of sherry in hand, staring bleary-eyed out the window. An unexpected winter storm dashes raindrops against the glass. They enjoy a brief moment of stardom, taking center stage, absorbing and refracting colored lights from the Christmas tree. I wish I had the where-with-all to grab my Cannon and capture their moment, but fatigue has morphed holiday ho-ho-ho into Grinchy grunts, growls, and grimaces.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the holidays. I’m all about trimming the tree and decking the halls. I adore the childlike fun of Christmas décor. The themes of which fall somewhere between Disney’s Fantasy Land and an upscale children’s toy store. What’s not to like? My boxes of Christmas paraphernalia easily take up half the storage space in the garage, and I love every gaudy bit. I get positively Christmas-morning giddy every time I unpack my treasures and pull out my favorites, oohing and aahing over each piece. It’s like revisiting favorite old friends. You know the ones…no issues, no negativity…just all smiles and good memories.
Visions of decorating perfection danced in my head like proverbial sugar plums as I unpacked our holiday linens and ever-growing snow-globe collection. But, a few hours in, after too much (I refuse to say excessive) bending and lifting, and too many trips up and down the step ladder, it became evident that my grandiose plans for Martha Stewart perfection definitely exceeded my physical ability to follow through. Aging joints, my friends, can flash “reality check” through the rosiest of rose-colored glasses.
Standing on a ladder, stretching way up to the top of the tree to tweak that one ornament to its most picture-perfect angle, almost landed me in the arms of the treetop angel. I swear she frowned. I blame her porcelain glare for my loss of balance on the way back down. And getting down on howling knees to retrieve the ornament the cat batted off the tree…well, you get the gist of where my Christmas cheer was heading. At this point my teeth were firmly gritted behind my holiday smile.
I hate to admit it, but I see myself morphing into my mother in her later years. For most of my life, Mum was a huge fan of all the trappings of Christmas. My mother started baking her famous fruit cakes in the late fall, and by Christmas Eve the cake was well-doused in booze and covered in marzipan and frosted, and the freezer was full of shortbread cookies and mince pies. The tree was dressed and tinseled, the house lit up from one end to the other, the decanters filled, and the candles—along with my Dad—were lit. Christmas was the highlight of the year in the Platel household. My parents set the bar pretty high for what Christmas should be and set me up for trying to follow in their footsteps.
I felt almost betrayed when my mother’s holiday enthusiasm dimmed as she aged. I needed Christmas to stay the same; I needed her to be the same. The long-established traditions of Christmas were my anchor in a changing world. But, at some indefinite point, my mother wordlessly passed the baton to me, so I wobbled into her holiday high heels and knocked myself out creating Christmas for everyone. And, honestly, the pleasure has been all mine.
Fast forward about thirty years and this Christmas Elf is mimicking Mum in her later years, and beginning to drag her bedazzled behind. Yup. Persistent aching joints and a lowered energy level might be tweaking my perspective, but I stubbornly refuse to do much more than take the festivities down a mere notch or two. I still love the holidays, as does my husband…adult kids (no grandkids), not so much…but for us, Christmas remains the comet’s tail at the end of the year.
“In keeping with the situation,” to quote Scrooge's housekeeper, I’ve stocked up on Icy/Hot and Advil, dragged myself off the couch, squared my shoulders, and jumped deep into a pile gift wrapping paper and tape. Even better, looking for extra Christmas bags, I discovered a bottle of Southern Comfort tucked way in the back of the cupboard! Bring it on, Christmas.
So, on that note I wish you all a Merry Christmas and the happiest of whichever holiday you enjoy celebrating. Just pass the eggnog my way and don’t go easy on the rum.
As a transplanted Canadian, Arizona’s extended summer is something to which I’ve never completed adapted. My DNA is coded for seasonal change, and, the older I get, the more my tolerance for the heat lessens. Summer seems never-ending, and I miss the rhythms and the complexity of the wheel of the year.
This heat-season we managed two short trips to much-cooler northern Arizona. One was in May, just as the summer was setting up housekeeping in Tucson, and the second was in early September, when the heat dragged on and my brain was becoming stupefied.
But here it is October, and the evening temps are still hovering in the 80s. My my internal dots aren’t connecting; my synapses have stopped firing. I flatline and become as one-dimensional as a southern Arizona, sunny-and-hot weather forecast. It’s osmosis at its worst. Cranky doesn’t even begin to describe my attitude.
Just as my emotional burnout begins to turn the corner into depression, dipping temperatures in the Santa Catalinas are coaxing colored pigments from the deciduous trees’ leaves to center stage. A trip up the mountain—a short ninety-minute drive from our house—is in order. The uninhibited bright golds, rusts, and reds of autumn never fail to recharge my batteries. We pack up the dogs, a picnic, the camera, and head across town and up the winding Catalina highway, out of desert.
As the car edges above the 7000-foot elevation, the first glimmer of color appears. The golden yellow of the aspens and the crimson leaves of the maples are in full glory. A wildfire of color blazes up the mountainside. There are even a few true oak trees scattered here and there, and their leaves range from a lovely lime green to a burnished deep gold.
Our favorite spot for fall color on the mountain is a ravine/canyon called Bear Wallow. We stop and park off the main highway, and follow the short trail for a few hundred yards of pure, Canadian fall. I collect leaves to press and a few more to use as models to capture in watercolor. There is just enough of a breeze to flutter a kaleidoscope of oranges, yellows, reds, and greens across our path. The air is fresh and scented with pine; small pinecones crunch under our feet. The ravine’s ancient apple tree is sporting a few red apples in its topmost branches.
I feel myself coming back to life. This simple, few hours amidst the trees does more than just dislodge my blocked chi. I feel a rush of creative energy for the first time in many weeks, and I feel ready to start writing again. I’m even ready to tackle my latest passion: capturing birds, leaves, and flowers in watercolors.
It’s a fact that my soul would probably benefit from summers spent in a mountain cabin, but since that will never be the case, I can/will make myself happy with whatever short escapes can be wangled. My husband is usually more than willing to comply. Who wants to have to hide out the summer, indoors, with a cranky wife? Am I cranky on purpose? Shhh….not ready to give that one away.
I've been loving the unexpected number of butterflies flitting through our gardens and skies this year. Post-monsoon flowering shrubs and plants are absolutely shivering with butterfly activity. Such an amazing sight. Makes me wonder why some people squirm at the sight of caterpillars and resent every bite taken out of their plants, but then are thrilled by the colors and beauty of the butterflies in their gardens. A major disconnect in their thinking wouldn’t you say? We humans seem to excel at mental disconnects
My mind couldn't help been tumbling and turning with the butterflies. Watching them I had to wonder whether butterflies remember being caterpillars? Are they consciously celebrating their newfound freedom of flight as they dive and zoom around the garden? If they don’t remember their previous incarnation, that means they are living joyously free of identity baggage? Don’t you wish that applied to us? Butterflies, consciously or not, are the ultimate, self-reinvention success story.
How many people do you know, women especially, who talk about re-inventing themselves, some repeatedly? We all do it to a certain extend. Haven’t you said, at least once, “I’m not the person I used to be?” We change, we grow, we shed our old selves, and go forth and prosper with a new outlook, identity, and sometimes an up-graded exterior. But, based on the number of women I know who are taking anti-depressants and/or talking to analysts, no one seems to truly shut the door on their old selves. We re-invent, and yet still see the old us every time we stand too long in front of a mirror. There she is, hiding behind our eyes, standing in judgement on the new us every minute of every day.
We like to just shut our eyes to our reflections and blunder forward. We drink too many cocktails and post too many memes expounding on the virtues of self-love, being kind, and unconditional personal acceptance. Who are we trying to convince? We go on ad infinitum about what strong women we are, while taking even the slightest criticism to heart, and creeping away to self-flagellate and analyze every perceived, hurtful word. Or, we flaunt our defiance and dye our hair purple to prove our point, while loudly proclaiming how we don’t care what anyone thinks; we are above having to answer to anyone but ourselves. I tend not to buy into that. Goes against human nature.
If we stop judging others, maybe we can stop judging ourselves...maybe. The butterflies were all crawling, munching caterpillars not too long ago, but you don't see them looking back or judging each others newly created patterns and colors. But then...a butterfly doesn't need depth of character to be a successful butterfly, does it? As for us, what we see/show on the surface doesn't even hint at the wealth of humanity underneath. With us, as glamorous as we might try to be on the outside, it's what's inside that matters the most.
We unintentionally reinvent ourselves internally every day. Every bit of new data we absorb affects us, changes us, and revises our perception, even if ever so slightly. However, when we intentionally revise our life plan and/or outlook based on new information (joining a religion, leaving a religion, becoming a vegan, changing political views, leaving a job, moving to Bulgaria, or dropping mucho weight) the fallout can include losing friends and acquaintances, who either won’t understand or accept our metamorphosis. Some will even become resentful if we change from who they need or expect us to be. “Oh…you’ve changed so much!” (like that’s a bad thing?) Think co-dependence and “misery loves company.”
Like our butterfly friends, we each must follow our own flight paths, no matter how dizzying they might be to others, and in spite of judgements. If we don’t grow, we stagnate, and who wants to simulate a skanky swamp? So accept the inevitable process and celebrate change, and if your re-working brings you peace and joy, spread your wings and soar on the currents. Life is too short to do otherwise. Just ask the next butterfly you meet.
Lynn Nicholas - AUTHOR oF Dancing Between The Beats
My blog is a window into my world. My slice-of-life narratives are triggered by life's