Tag Archiv: Christmas

Together Times, New Year’s and Now

The Card Players (Zwei Kartenspieler) by Paul Cézanne. 1892-1893. (Interesting Trivia: purchased by Qatar royal family in 2011 for most sum of money ever paid for a work of art.)

The Card Players (Zwei Kartenspieler) by Paul Cézanne. 1892-1893.
(Interesting Trivia: purchased by Qatar royal family in 2011 for most sum of money ever paid for a work of art.)

The ping pong table was a success. Stunned raised eyebrows that mother dearest was of her own accord introducing things that bounced into the house. Mother dearest has been emotionally challenged with the enthusiastic table shoving involved in preferred methods of set up, but overall, no regrets, and a little training in gift usage is ok.

Girl two had asked repeatedly for Christmas to bring a Barbie horse. I found two possibilities, both for ridiculous amounts of money that I simply couldn’t justify. Unbeknownst to me, her siblings had found a Barbie horse at a second hand store earlier that day for less than a tenth of the price. By Christmas morning it was one of the biggest packages under the tree. (For some reason the kids don’t think they’ve done it right unless there are multiple boxes involved in a packaging exercise.)

We made the best of the mild weather. We took our usual walks and scouted new ones in nearby forests. On boxing day, the kids and I decided that weather that warm the day after Christmas was not to be scoffed at. In snow pants, gloves, hats, and sweatshirts, we hit the bike trails for a rare mid-winter cycle.

Uno games are high on my list, since everyone can play them, but watching Girl one begin her entry into the regular world of cards after Girl two had gone to bed, was a great joy. Some parents sit with baited breath as their child takes their first step, gets on the school bus, or goes for a first overnight. For us, the crossing of the threshold into competitive card games is a joy hard to contain. Girl one was thrilled to be included and appointed me her royal adviser. Not sure where she gets all the drama, but she was happy and we were happy, and with a little reminding about how much help she was getting, Boy two (now taking his own first steps in the world of the now un-coached card player) survived her first few winning hands.

I have dispensed of New Year’s resolutions and have instead arranged some modest goals from now until the end of February, at which time I will re-evaluate. As part of modest goals, Boy one is working on his cooking. Since session one, I’ve adjusted the idea that he’ll magically cook by himself without first cooking together. This was fine for baking, but with cooking it helps to chop side by side, learn to peel the skin off garlic by seeing someone do it, and smell spices together before throwing them in. There’s a heart and soul to cooking that I want to share. And now that I mention it, I want to write about it sometime too, so no more of that for now.

For now, it’s time for the lovely quiet of kids gone back to school.

Grateful lists, surprises, and holy days.

Me Contemplating life post Christmas gift . . . or, "Aged Angel," by Odilon Redon

Me Contemplating possible post Christmas regrets from the gift I chose . . . also technically known as, “Aged Angel,” by Odilon Redon

 

I’m sitting around feeling grateful for odd tidbits. We’ve found styles I can manage for the girls’ hair, my husband gets up in the night to add wood to the fire, my son is learning to say I’m sorry properly, my daughter’s whole self lights up with joy when she sings, my other daughter dances glory hallelujah because life pleases her, my son worked after school for days and days to have all his own money to spend for Christmas this year . . . and I had a mother who trained me to write grateful lists year round.

In a first this year, I have a present from me to everybody.  Although my husband reads the blog, the fact that he is easily distracted will work in my favor. From now until Christmas, every time he gets a free minute on his computer, I’ll point to the mistletoe in the kitchen. That or ask him a question about football.

They all know I’m picking up a 4′ x 8′ board today to complete my present, but nobody can guess what it is. I got a ping pong set (net, paddles, balls) that hooks to any size table. My plan is to put felt on the bottom of the board and then paint the top. Wala enlarged ping pong table to sit on top of the kitchen table when we feel like it.

My secret is protected largely by my fanaticism about balls in the house. They are not allowed to be tossed, juggled, banged, bopped, thrown, kicked or dribbled. Boy one has probably put in a 1000 hours of work or so in his fourteen years paying for his ball infractions. He has lost balls to the heel of my foot or to a sleight of hand whereby they end up deep sixed in the garbage can. Possibly a few tennis balls have been cut in half. None of the family would dream something as outlandish as me voluntarily introducing balls into my kingdom.

Wish me well. If I can wrap strips of sheet around my mouth and duct tape my rear end to a chair, I think they’ll have a lot of fun. I imagine it will feel like something akin to finding out the drinking age is lower half an hour away, only they’ll be in their own kitchen living the wild life.

I offer prayers for each of you as Advent draws to a close.  Barring a sudden need to post, I’m taking time off from the blog until January 2nd (or 5th, I can’t decide). A merry and blessed Christmas and New Year’s to everyone. May you be richly blessed in the days ahead. Heading into Christmas, you are all most definitely on my grateful list.

Shocking weather forecast predicts droplets of water will be bringing Christmas cheer in lieu of snow. Say it ain't so.

Shocking weather forecast predicts droplets of water will be bringing Christmas cheer in lieu of snow.  Gulp.

Medusa vs. Grace

Medusa painted on a leather jousting shield from Wikicommons

Medusa painted on a leather jousting shield from Wikicommons. (Found this elsewhere listed as a painting by Caravaggio) Either way . . . thank you public domain.

We took the whole family for a day of Christmas shopping this past weekend. Due to my previously mentioned disorder, we have shopped other years only in fits and starts, often making gifts and designating someone to pick up requested items. For no reason, this year was different. We loaded into the car for the hour and a half drive with list of locations and addresses in hand.

Around midday, we found ourselves at bookstore. While we browsed, a very distraught customer came in. A mistake had been made. The store owed her money, apologies, and prompt attention. The clerk answered kindly that it was Saturday and unfortunately the manager would not be in until Monday.

This news was met with rage and rising voice. I began looking for the children, wondering how to get them out the door before things got uglier. The clerk was undaunted in her warm and gracious demeanor. I got as far as having Boy one get Girl two to the car so at least we wouldn’t add to the unfolding scene with a display of toppled merchandise.

I tried to focus on novelty pens while emotional woman demanded immediate restitution for whatever had transpired on her credit card. Other shoppers waited in line. Ignoring the ongoing kindness of the clerk, the woman continued to argue the irrelevance of the manager’s absence. Here was a receipt, here was a copy of the credit statement . . .

In a voice that had miraculously lost not an ounce of patience, the clerk agreed to look at the documents presented. After that it got very quiet and the woman began to stammer in mortification. The store had not made a mistake. She had. She apologized beside with embarrassment and shame.

Nothing to worry about, said the clerk. It was an easy mistake to make. It happens to all of us, she added.

At this point, I ceased shopping and stared (one hopes with a modicum of stealth). Not sure what to do next, angry shopper on the verge stood repeating her wonder that this had happened. Curly white haired clerk walked around from behind her counter with open arms. Clerk scooped shopper gently into a hug that lasted long enough to speak kind words quietly and wait. Released by love, shopper walked off slowly almost speechless except for quiet thank you.

A witness to love’s raw beauty, I left in tears, amazed.

Good Gifts

I vaguely remember in the lead up to Christmas feeling overwhelmed and frustrated about unfinished lists. Blissfully fuzzy now are all such silly things. I remember the gifts, too many to count. In the telling I am happy all over again.

This year we got three days of an odd snow and freezing rain combination right before Christmas. Holidays can’t be ruined by weather, but it can make them sing a little more. I watched the rain come down and felt a little melancholy about the inevitable destruction of good skating ice on the pond.

Christmas Eve (twas the time for cleaning madly) I opened the outside door to see my daughter’s boots thrown on the snowy ground. Irritated, I commanded into the cold for her to come and explain. She didn’t answer. Her brothers smiled and pointed.

Girl one was skating. All over the yard, around the house, and out into the pasture. Instead of melting the snow or leaving divots all over the place, the freezing rain had hardened six inches of snow into a very hard and smooth surface. Christmas day kids were sledding, skating, and Cross Country skiing, all on the same hills and fields, sometimes side by side.

My favourite gift was a song. Boy one on the piano, girl one on the violin, boy and girl two singing. The First Noel. A surprise performance for me.

The day after Christmas, we went to see my brother and his family. We didn’t fight moving from beds to car. For most of nine hours travelling, we were kind to each other. We have no idea how it happened. I feel asleep that night with gratitude (and wonder). Two families of six (who see each other twice a year) were in a three bedroom house for days. The joy inside me was so loud, I hardly heard the kids.

I love my sister-in-law to death. I also find her organization inspiring. I started sorting and organizing the night we got home and for almost the entire next day. More order and hope are already flooding the place as I head into another day of home improvements.

In closing, the commentary department:

I am in the laundry room. Boy one puts his arms around me from behind.

“Thanks. What’s that for?”

“I feel like I’ve been a jerk today. I just wanted to say that.”

 

Mid morning on the first,  So what if I can’t marry a Dutch girl (like my brother did) at least I can learn from one cleaning day. The girls had cleaning rags in hand. I was arranging shoes. “We’re like Cinderella,” said Girl one. “We work all the time, but we’re really happy.”

During our anniversary celebration, discussion of marriage commenced.

“You guys fight a lot,” said one cheery voice.

I wasn’t sure how to take the appraisal. It surprised me. I was deciding how depressed to feel when boy two interjected, sincere and insistent.

“Mom and Dad don’t fight a lot, Mom’s just right a lot.”

Ah, my young shining knight . . .

Holidays and THANK YOU!

Happy times, retro ski clothes and all.

Happy times.

I am taking time off from the blog to do things like watch musicals, play games, visit family, and skate on the pond. Three items of business follow. If you only read one, read #3!!!!

1. Blogs will be intermittent (and written only if something really compelling occurs) until after the New Year.

2. If you want a quick e-mail to let you know about the occasional post between now and when regular life resumes, now is a great time to sign up for County Road 21 updates by clicking here . The system is very old school for the techno world. If you sign up, here is what to expect . . .

I send out an e-mail with a link to the blog anytime there is a new post. Normally, this means one e-mail a day, five days a week. The e-mail is from countyroad21@gmail.com and is sent manually using blind copies in a group e-mail. I do it this way because I could figure out how to do it and because I don’t personally like to sign up for things where I get notification every time someone comments, or even puts a smiley face.

3.  IMPORTANT.  VERY IMPORTANT.  PLEASE READ.

I want to say thank you, to you, my readers. You have been such a gift to me. It is a privilege to have a place to write, and the fact that you show up and share the space with me both humbles and blesses me a great deal. Blog readership is growing, and that can only be thanks to you as well. Thank you sincerely to each of you for your support. For those who like to just read and not comment (a lot of my male readers fall into this category :) ) THANK YOU. For those who respond with comments, either privately by e-mail/facebook or on the blog, THANK YOU. For those of you who have read something you liked and passed it on to a friend or two, THANK YOU!

I pray for all of you often to have joy and love and all manner of good things caught up in your feet every time you try to take a step.  A very Merry Christmas to you and those you love.

With many thanks,

Michelle

 

 

 

Forgiveness Project Last Chapter

I’ve tried to write what comes for the Forgiveness Project. I considered something on liars.  I wondered about failed friends. I am both these things, but neither piece seemed like it needed that much attention. The most compelling reason for writing them was so that I didn’t have to write today’s post.

With admonishments to myself to suck it up and be a real man, I proceed.

What I would really like for Christmas is to be perfect. In thought, word, and deed. (Not to mention appearances, impressions, and memory.) I am far from these things. For this reason, I am running madly through the house tearing apart the cushions, looking under couches, beds, and in the closets, trying to find any last pieces of bravery I can muster to forgive myself. I do not want the harsh emptiness that comes with refusing to accept forgiveness. This isn’t about not saying sorry. All of me is sorry. This is about accepting freely offered forgiveness. I don’t want to smile, then quietly spit the gift back out, insisting it is ill advised and undeserved. The burden of my failings is heavy. It’s time to let go.

For not being the person I dream of becoming, I forgive myself. For not loving as gently as I picture myself doing someday, I forgive myself. For being a nasty, finger pointing, flaw finding person, I forgive myself.

Sometimes I take other people so personally that it short circuits my insides and I can hardly function. It doesn’t matter if the slight came from someone insignificant, if it hits just right, it can shake me for days. I dream big, talk big, then let the little stick girl living inside the inflatable body of me, go hide in the corner because she’s just so tiny and she’ll be lucky if she can figure out how to brush her teeth properly, much less be a truly decent mother, or make it as a writer.

I don’t like to write about my husband. In my head, I picture us as two oxen hooked to a plow, pulling side by side. Not the usual description of love. I know. The other ox doesn’t feel like something outside of me. He’s at work, he’s at home. It doesn’t matter, he’s pulling with me, loving me and cheering me on. The days I do that for him too, feel good. The days I change from dearest friend to behaviour modification specialist with charts for subpar oxen performance . . . well I hate that self. When I’m not being her, I want to take those damn charts and shove them down her throat. Anything to convince her to be human again.

I am not who I wish I was, but I am forgiven and I am trying.

I accept the beautiful gift of forgiveness offered to me. And I forgive myself.

A thousand pounds gone.

Music. Dancing. It’s almost Christmas.

Forgiveness Project and the Vegetable Man

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If were I to stay at home (my preferred location 98.5% of the time) I would not have to pass the vegetable man’s house. Boy one’s bus stop is a few miles away. I get in the car to pick him up because otherwise he would be late for dinner. This forces me to drive by the vegetable man’s house and therefore to think of him. Driving by a few weeks ago, a terrible thought came. Perhaps I should forgive the vegetable man.

I do not want to forgive the vegetable man. The thought of him rankles me. Seeing his gardens are bad enough, the few times I saw him out working, disgust darts were sucked out of my eyes and shot out through the windshield towards him. The vegetable man didn’t have the decency to hurt me, he hurt my son. In case it is not obvious, I am justified.

I spent a lot of the summer hoping for a new kind of blight to strike certain fields of vegetables. For the fall I hoped that pumpkin sales were plummeting. Technically, my family has been informed that we will be in a state of vegetable starvation for a very extended period of time before I would ever deign to buy that man’s produce.

The last day I picked up boy one from his first summer job, he wouldn’t get into the car until he’d picked beans for just a little bit longer so the bucket would be extra full. He carefully bagged up the vegetables I had bought in silence. When we were out of the driveway, he told me in tears that he no longer had a job. Vegetable man had fired him an hour ago with odd comments that didn’t add up, not much warning, and not much dignity.

On forgiving the man, I feel like I am stuck in the Cat and the Hat book. “But could you, would you . . . for the baby in the manger?”

“I could not would not . . . ”

And then it’s all downhill.

Like vegetable man, I have been unmerciful and unkind. I too have failed to see the tenderness of those I dismiss with little or no grace. Sigh.

Dear Vegetable Man,

I forgive you.

May the year ahead see your gardens overflowing.

Truly, may the taste of your beans be the talk of the town.

 

 

 *****Unfortunately, the vegetable man was not the most irritating person to cross my path this year. Hence I am launching a forgiveness project, directed at my objects of indignation as they come to me. If you want to join me, do. If you don’t feel the urge, that’s ok too. I am getting ready for Christmas. Starting with the vegetable man. Because you have to start somewhere. And because there’s no way to get half the places I need to go without passing his house.

Getting ready for the baby

Christ child

Christ child

Advent is the road to Christmas. It is my favourite time of year. I love Christmas, but I crave Advent.

I am a woman with many opinions and a well exercised mouth. Or at least I can be. Many times my thoughts come out with a force stronger than I would have wished had I taken a day to think about it. (That counting to ten thing doesn’t work for me and mine. Ten seconds is only enough time for us to rev the engines a little hotter.) The best defense is a good offense came built into my operating instructions. My bold words mask fear and protect against rejection.

Then Advent comes and it all finally looks like what it really is. Utter nonsense. Babies don’t get bravado, they just want you to be with them. Provided I don’t get caught up in lists, the relief I feel walking the path to Christmas is palpable. Very little is required of me beyond what would naturally pour out of me were someone to hand me a baby I long for. My broken tear ducts work for this little one. I can cry just thinking about welcoming the baby in the manger. I want to be ready.

Babies know things without words, and they drink, and poop, and sleep it off. I don’t want my sarcastic, caustic self for a baby. I want soft and warm. A voice that is used to saying kind things. Arms that are accustomed to embracing generously. If I allow it, Advent gives me a break from me.

I don’t float around gently dispensing peace and love in my kitchen or on the street. I try to be a little kinder and I then I fall flat on my face because it is barely December and I already cannot handle the fifty two memos from school about canned food, shoeboxes for seniors, parties, concerts, celebrations and never ending details. I snap at the innocents, feel like a failure and snap some more. I want to go on strike, say choice words, and kick over a few snowmen. Then I remember that it is just about the baby and I go quiet again.

I scrounge around in my heart. Pace back and forth. Sigh. There’s no use telling a baby that I couldn’t think of what to give him, just come back next year. He doesn’t want my stuff, he just wants me and you. Good news that is terrifying.

It’s like the bathroom needs cleaning and the laundry isn’t done, but company I really care about is at the door. I pull shut the laundry room door, and yell for them to let themselves in. I grab a clean hand towel, some disinfectant and a rag for as good as I can get it in 90 seconds.

I’m coming, I yell from the bathroom.

Me too, says the baby.

 

Here’s to the Music – Play it Again, Sam

Doing dishes the other night, the sounds of my son’s trombone warmed me at least as much as the wood stove. In one small run of eighth notes, I went from dreading the obligations of Christmas to realizing that, “almost December,” meant the Christmas Concert at his school. A sentimentalist I am not. Many a concert or school function I have attended as a grudging token of decency to the children I helped bring into this world. But this is not that. His school music program is exceptional and the concerts are a true pleasure. The Go-to-bed-on-time-Nazi  (me) lets the younger kids go and be grumpy for two days afterwards because the way their eyes brighten and their toes tap is worth it.

For anyone within driving distance of St. Michael’s in Kemptville, I cannot recommend the Christmas concert highly enough. The students will be well rehearsed. Their repertoire will be a wonderful mix of pieces worth doing. The evening will appeal to kids and adults of all ages because the performers and their impassioned and talented director will bring enough joy to fill the place.  The concert features Jr. and Sr. bands, a jazz band, and my personal favourite, a chamber choir.

On Thursday, December 12, at 7:00pm, something simple, true, and beautiful is happening. At that time, in that place, young men and women beaming with the promise of tomorrow will be making music. Together. For free. For you. If you can believe in their possibilities by attending the concert, you will be richly rewarded with the experience of something as new and alive as a miracle.

If you cannot come see these particular young people at this particular school, consider finding a school near you which is doing music well and then support them with your presence. Schools that value music need to know that we’re behind them because our children need to be able to sing. Children who sing know how to listen to the voices of others. They have seen and heard and felt for themselves the mystery of individuals working together to create a whole that is bigger than any one of them. Children who sing not only discover their own beautiful voices they learn how to make them stronger. They learn how to hold their own when others are singing something different.

This applies to those in choirs, as well as those in bands. A girl with a clarinet is discovering her voice as much as a tenor singing his first solo. Instruments are voices to which we have added imagination. What would happen if we were to hold our mouths just so and blow through this tube, or across the hole on the side of it? A hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand people have wondered, have practiced this . . . and then along comes the girl.  She picks up the instrument, and to all the imagination that has gone before her, she adds her own. She finds her voice and sings an old song, now born into something completely new.

I am posting this now, in early November, because right now there is still plenty of time to save the night for this concert on your calendar. I’ll send a reminder in December, but consider blocking the time now. I don’t know about you, but I look outside and see a world that needs joyful voices. I see kids walking down the street, wondering about tomorrow, and I hope someone is teaching them to sing.

This Christmas season, if you can, find a school concert with outstanding music and go to it. Say with your presence that you don’t want a world without twelve year olds on trumpets and seventeen year olds singing Handel. Say their voices matter. Say you want the music.