taking down the tree

Yesterday, we took down our Christmas tree.

It’s a necessary task, but always a bit sad.

It’s also very nostalgic. This time, I was struck by these ornaments in particular.

These ornaments double as candy cane holders, so that they look like hobby horses when they hang on the tree. The red one was made over fifty years ago by my spouse B when he was in elementary school. The white one was made about thirty years ago by B’s mom, when she was teaching in elementary school and would lead her students in creating a holiday gift for their parents. She would always make extras to give to family members. I’m sure hers were prettier than her students, although all are equally treasured.

These and all the other ornaments are safely stowed now, waiting for next Christmas – or maybe the one after that, if we decide to spend the holidays in London this year.

Fortunately, the memories are easily accessible at any time.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/16/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-16th-2023/

remembering Paul

Yesterday, for the second time in a week, I attended a memorial service. My spouse B and I attended services for Paul Everett. Paul and B had been co-workers at IBM for many years before Paul had to leave work for health reasons.

While Anita’s had been a Catholic funeral, Paul’s service was in the Reformed Protestant tradition. Because it was in non-liturgical form, the service was more easily molded to reflect Paul’s life and gifts, which, if you read the obituary linked above, you will realize were many and varied.

For example, all the music in the service was arranged by Paul for folk instruments. Paul had hosted a weekly folk session for many years and compiled his beginner-friendly arrangements in the Wednesday Night Jam Canonical Tune Book. B and I had chosen seats near the ensemble, which included guitars, piano, accordion, tin whistle, fiddle, and hammered dulcimer, an instrument that Paul had both constructed and played. The gathering music took place at the beginning of the service rather than before it so that we could listen and reflect instead of being distracted by conversation.

The homily was given by Paul’s son Isaac, who inherited his father’s love of music and theology, studied them, and became both a professional musician and an ordained minister. Isaac used his father’s love for the Book of Jonah as a lens to relate who his father was. It was moving and heart-felt and beautifully crafted. I’m sure Paul, who had served as a deacon and lay preacher himself, would have been proud. Isaac also played guitar and piano during the service.

During fellowship time after the service, B was able to connect with some retired IBMers who were in attendance and reminisce about Paul, including his adventures and misadventures building boats and taking them out on the waters. Fortunately, Paul’s nautical journeys went better than Jonah’s!

Later in the afternoon, I went to vigil mass at my home parish. The opening hymn was “Here I Am, Lord” which was the gathering song for Anita’s funeral. At communion, we sang “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” which we had sung at Paul’s memorial service. The echo of these songs calls me to reflect on what my call is at this time of my life, increasingly cognizant that I am much closer to the end of my life than the beginning.

Rest in peace, Anita. Rest in peace, Paul. Thank you for your example of how to live fully until the end.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/15/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-15th-2023/

role reversal

While I don’t usually use the prompts that Linda helpfully lists for Just Jot It January, I decided to use the prompt today from Sadje, reversal.

I immediately thought of role reversal in the context of family, specifically as it pertains to generational caregiving. As a child, my parents took care of me and my sisters. When I became an adult and especially a mother myself, I appreciated that my parents continued to care for us, although in a different and appropriate way than when I was a child.

As my parents aged and encountered health problems, though, our roles reversed and I became a caregiver to them. That being said, caring for an aging parent is different than caring for a child. My parents had chosen to enter a senior continuing care community, so household help and the ability to move between levels of care from independent to assisted to skilled nursing was available to them. I was able to concentrate on helping with medical needs, handling bills, chauffeuring, running errands, and emotional support.

Our roles reversed in terms of caregiving but not in personal terms. They were always my parents and I was always their daughter. Even though they have both passed away now, I’m still their daughter.

That will never change.

I’m thinking about this in a particular way right now as I’m preparing my chapbook Hearts for publication later this year by Kelsay Books. The poems center around my mother, particularly her last few years battling heart disease. There are several poems that deal with the generations of women surrounding her, her mother and me, her granddaughter, and great-granddaughter.

Earlier this week, I received a beautiful blurb that will go on the back cover. It referenced this generational element in the manuscript.

I cried.
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Join us for Just Jot It January! Details here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/13/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-13th-2023/

Weekend wrap-up

Just a quick evening post today, because I’ve had a busy weekend with two performances of Twelfth Night with the Madrigal Choir of Binghamton.

Both performances were well received by very appreciative audiences. As always, there are moments that don’t go quite as well as they might have but those aren’t noticeable to the audience, so they don’t matter in the long run.

I was happy to have family and/or friends at both performances. I loved the opportunity to share this music and celebration with them. After the performance today in Greene, there was a lovely reception, which afforded us a chance to meet some of our audience members. This was the first time we had sung in Chenango County, so it was nice to have new community connections.

Madrigal Choir now has a bit of a break before our next set of rehearsals begins for an American Songbook concert in April. Stay tuned!
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/08/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-8th-2023/

celebrating the new year

When E and T were children, we started celebrating the New Year with them at midnight Greenwich Mean Time, which is 7:00 PM in our time zone. We would have a toast with sparkling cider or grape juice.

Not being night owls, we still follow that tradition at our house. B found an online feed from the BBC of the celebration in London, with the chiming of Big Ben and fireworks along the Thames, this year not only celebrating the New Year but also recognizing the 50th anniversary of Gay Pride, the death of Queen Elizabeth and beginning of the reign of King Charles, and support for Ukraine and for all those suffering around the world.

It’s especially meaningful to celebrate with London with daughter E and her family living there. While we were watching the broadcast, E sent us a video of fireworks being set off in her neighborhood.

For a moment, it made the distance between us feel smaller.

Happy New Year to you, wherever you are on the globe. May peace, love, and care for each other increase.

a quiet Christmas

Spouse B, daughter T, and I were on our own this Christmas. While we had originally hoped that daughter E, son-in-law L, and granddaughters ABC and JG were going to be able to join us from London, UK, circumstances prevented that, probably a blessing in disguise given the travel disruptions caused by the extreme weather here in the US.

We here in Broome County, New York, were spared the worst of the storm. While it was cold and windy, we didn’t get a lot of snow and ice. Our hearts go out to places that suffered flooding or blizzard conditions. Erie County, about 200 miles to our west, has reported 25 deaths so far from the intense blizzard.

I did change my plan for when I went to church, in deference to the cold. I decided to attend the 4 PM vigil rather than the 10 PM. We had a prelude program from a wonderful brass quintet from Southern Tier Brass. I especially appreciated their rendition of “Lo, How a Rose” which was arranged from the Brahms organ chorale prelude that I learned when I was in college and which has always been a favorite of mine.

I also loved the introduction to the liturgy, which welcomed everyone whatever their state in life. It meant a lot to me to hear such an explicit statement of universality. The word catholic means universal but the Church has often strayed from that concept. I appreciated hearing this all-encompassing welcome at Christmas-time when people who aren’t members are often in attendance while visiting family or friends.

In the evening, B, T, and I watched Miracle on 34th Street, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. T had never seen it and it had been many years since B and I had watched it. It was a sweet way to spend Christmas Eve.

In the morning, we enjoyed cranberry and date nut bread so breakfast, made by B who does a lot of the cooking and baking, especially over the holidays. We opened stockings and gifts. I was especially pleased to receive a 10th generation iPad from B; our current one is 2nd generation, so definitely a step up!

We had a chance to video chat with our London family when it was mid-morning here and mid-afternoon there. The energy of a two- and a five-year-old was palpable, even five time zones away. B and I were also lucky to have phone conversations with our siblings.

When E and T were young, celebrating Christmas was a days-long endeavor. Christmas Day would be spent with my parents who lived nearby. In the following days, my sisters would arrive with their families for a couple of days and then we would travel to B’s parents’ home in Vermont, which usually involved a celebration with his extended family. Days and days of gifts, socializing, and eating.

With just the three of us, we scaled back on the extent of our traditional holiday fare. B did make lasagna for Christmas dinner, using Nana’s recipe. He also made fresh, artisanal bread and sauteed asparagus, followed by tiramisu for dessert. On Christmas Day, we used to have a variety of homemade Christmas cookies for dessert; we would make eight or so types, sometimes supplemented by homemade dried-fruit fruitcake and chocolate fudge. At the moment, we only have two kinds of cookies, pecan puffs from B’s family recipe and cranberry-pistachio biscotti.

Although our celebration was scaled down this year, it felt right, homey and comfortable and mostly low-stress.

I don’t know if we will ever return to a predictable pattern for Christmas celebrations. With all our elder generation now passed on, it’s unlikely that we will have big, extended family gatherings as we were accustomed. Last year, the first Christmas after Paco passed away, we went to London for three weeks over the holidays, just as the first wave of Omicron was cresting. It was complicated.

The pandemic has reinforced the lesson to expect the unexpected and to be open to change. It’s difficult because we often carve certainty and routine. The parlance you often hear is “return to normal.” For me, there is no way for that to happen – for holidays or for much of the rest of life.

So, this year I will be content with a quiet Christmas, having no idea what next year will bring but hoping I will have the grace and support to handle it.

One-Liner Wednesday: London snow

My granddaughters after a rare snowfall in London, UK – excited 5-year-old ABC who remembers snow from living with us in upstate NY when she was little and 2-year-old JG who had never experienced snow.

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/12/14/one-liner-wednesday-the-lost-days/

Sweets by Wendy Stewart (ONE GOOD MEMORY Series)

Another poem from a fellow Grapevine and Boiler House Poets Collective friend as part of the Silver Birch Press ONE GOOD MEMORY series! Enjoy “Sweets” by Wendy Stewart, especially those of you who enjoy marzipan treats for Christmas.

Silver Birch Press

fieryphoenixSweets
by Wendy Stewart

For Christmas we make marzipan fruits.
They are as big as my thumbs.

Apples are round and red,
like apples. I get it.

Plums are purple like plums.
I like them best.
Bananas are yellow and long.

I say grapes and she laughs.
I get it. They’d be so little.

Once she says Oh! That one
I thought must be a real plum.

She puts them on the glass tray.
They stay set on the cold porch.

When company comes,
we offer them our candies.
She holds the tray.

I tell how my mum
was fooled by my plum:
That one.

PHOTO:Marzipan fruits by Fiery Phoenix.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I wrote “Sweets” when my daughter was little, perhaps littler than I was in this poem, and I was missing my mother. It is a fond memory. It struck me that you don’t know what’s…

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tree drama

A few hours after I wrote this post, B, T, and I were watching television when there was a horrible crash behind us. Our newly decorated tree had tipped over! Apparently, the bolts that hold it in the stand weren’t tightened quite enough.

We all sprang into action! B pulled the tree off the floor, T ran to get towels for the water, I pulled back the carpet so it would’t get soaked, T and I got towels down on the wood floor, and T and I held the tree in position so B could secure the bolts.

We got water back in the stand and re-positioned the ornaments and lights which had dislodged. We were fortunate that we only lost three small glass ornaments, none of them heirlooms. There was quite a lot of sweeping up to do, with needles and broken glass strewn about the floor.

Now, the tree looks almost like this again! (Besides the three that broke, a few others are in different places now.)

moving toward Christmas

I’m managing to do more Christmas preparation than I have in the last several years.

I have over half my holiday cards sent.

Yesterday, B and I went to the tree farm to buy our Christmas tree and wreath. Today, along with daughter T, we decorated the tree.

I love our Christmas ornament collection. There are ornaments that belonged to our parents. Ones we have bought on our travels over the years. Ones we received as gifts. Home-made ones by my grandmother, B’s mom, B as a child, our children. Handcrafted ones made by artists on four continents, including my friend Yvonne Lucia. Ornaments made of cloth, yarn, wood, birch bark, wax, corn husks, glass, paper, teasels, metal, ceramic, plastic, even eggshell. The angel on top of the tree is one I made from a kit with the help of a friend shortly after B and I married. The latch-hooked tree skirt featuring candy canes was made by my mother.

If our home suffered a disaster and our ornament collection was lost, it would be impossible to re-create.

Still, during the years when I was caring for my parents and in the immediate aftermath of their passing, as much as I cherish these ornaments, I couldn’t being myself to unwrap them, touch them, place them on the tree. Even when others had done so, I could only manage a few glances at them.

Dealing with grief and loss is an individual and unpredictable endeavor. Last Christmas, our first since the death of my father, known here as Paco, we traveled to visit daughter E and her family in London, so we didn’t have our usual Christmas decorations. I really wasn’t sure how much of the usual Christmas routine I would be able to resume this year, so I am grateful that I felt up to participating in some decorating.

Granted, Christmas this year will be quieter than usual. It will be just B, T, and I celebrating at home. I will be going to church on my own. There will be stockings and some presents to open. (I admit my Christmas enthusiasm has not yet extended to shopping.) We will have a nice dinner and dessert although we haven’t settled on the menu yet. We have decided not to make our usual number of cookies, most years dozens of cookies in at least a half dozen varieties. It just doesn’t make sense for three people.

I think one of the factors in my feeling some Christmas spirit this year was singing Lessons and Carols with the Madrigal Choir of Binghamton last weekend. Given that I spent so many years doing liturgy planning and music in Catholic churches, I’m not accustomed to singing Christmas music publicly during Advent, but I think this year doing so boosted my anticipation for Christmas and helped me to feel up to helping with decorating.

If I’m lucky, it will carry me through finishing the cards next week.

If not, I will try to remember to take the advice that I offer to others who are dealing with loss: Be gentle with yourself.

Maybe the fragrance of the Canaan fir, the rainbow-hued lights, the meaningful ornaments will help lift my spirit if it flags.

Christmas trees are beautiful, even through misty eyes.

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