What I’ve been writing this week

Well, not much for blog posts or poems. I did have to do some commentary on articles about fracking because the one-year anniversary of the announcement of the fracking ban in New York State has produced another round of pieces on fracking, including a lot of hand-wringing from people who still believe the lies of the landmen from the early days of the ordeal.

But most of my writing this week has been Christmas/holiday cards, which are finally all in the mail.

While there have been many items on the Christmas to-do list that I have winnowed down over the years, sending holiday cards has remained one of my top priorities.

My ideal is to choose a card from my stash for each person/family on my list, hand signed with a short greeting, sealed with a Christmas Seal, and affixed with a holiday stamp appropriate for the recipient – Madonna and child for church friends, more secular designs for those who are more secular Christmas celebrants or who aren’t Christian. (While I tend to call it my Christmas card list, I include Jewish friends, agnostic friends, etc. on my list. Wishes for peace are always in season, as are wishes for happiness in the new year.)

Some cards get longer handwritten notes and some get a printed letter enclosed, which, while it has a common core, is personalized for each friend and signed by hand.

Some years include a family photo.

There are still vestiges of old-style etiquette stuck in my head…

In some years recently, reality has intervened and I haven’t lived up to my ideal. For instance, last year when I had shingles, I resorted to just sending a mass letter to most of my usual list. No card. No personalization. I delegated or axed almost everything else on the to-do list that year, but I refused to give up on sending greetings.

The real motivation for me is that many of these greetings go to people who I know longer get to see every year, people from various stages of my life – friends from school, neighbors who have moved away, relatives who live far away. It is my way of keeping in touch, of reminding people that they are still important to me.

Some of these people I haven’t heard back from in years, but that doesn’t matter. Some are too busy or too old or not oriented toward written communication. I don’t send greetings so that I get cards in return.

I know that the love I send out is received. That is the reason I will keep writing, addressing, stamping, and mailing every year as long as I am able.

A different Christmas/Eve

This Christmas does not look like others at our house. There are far fewer decorations. There is a wreath on the door only because I ordered one many weeks ago through a Garden Ministry fundraiser at church. We do have a fir lovingly decorated with decades-worth of special ornaments, including one we bought this year that was crafted by an artisan on the BIg Island of Hawai’i, but only because my spouse B and daughter T did the stringing of lights and hanging of ornaments.

My angel cardholder is full of Christmas greetings from friends and family.

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And that is about it. No creche on the mantel. No carol singers in the dining room. No Christmas-theme magnets on the refrigerator. No needlework nutcracker hanging from the doorknob.

As those who know me personally or who always read my blog or Facebook posts know, this December has been challenging for me. Assisting my mother-in-law through health issues, including a five-day hospital stay, following on several months of prior difficulties, was time-consuming, so I had already pared down my to-do list for the holidays. Then, last week, I developed shingles and the list got pared down some more with most of the tasks getting allocated to B and T.

The one major task that I retained was sending holiday greetings to friends and family. There are a number of people with whom I only connect at Christmastime – faraway friends who I have not seen in years but who still hold a special place in my heart, family that I used to see on a regular basis, but who are now living in different states, friends whom I have known for decades – and others that I still see on a regular basis but want to greet and reminisce with for the holidays. I prefer to choose individual cards, signed by hand, with small handwritten notes or longer printed personalized letters enclosed, sealed with a Christmas Seal and posted with a holiday stamp appropriate to the recipient. I accepted early in December that this was not going to be an ideal year, so I settled on writing a letter that would go to nearly everyone on my list sans card.

Writing the letter proved to be difficult as it involved re-living some very emotional times of the past year. It was lucky that I drafted it when I did, as the bulk of the work was done before my mother-in-law’s hospital stay. When I came down with shingles, I still had not had a chance to print the letters and address the envelopes, so, as B and T took over everything else, I sat and folded, addressed, sealed, and stamped, so that nearly all of them went into the mail on Saturday. Most will arrive in time for Christmas or the end of Hanukkah, while some that have a longer journey may not arrive until closer to New Year’s Eve, but I feel warm-hearted, knowing that I have sent part of myself out to friends and family at this special time of year. (Full disclosure:  There are several shameless plugs for Top of JC’s Mind in the letter. We’ll see if anyone actually visits because of it. 😉 )

We have already completed an important part of our Christmas celebration. My sisters and families came for a couple of days to see us and my parents. In recent years, we have exchanged meals rather than gifts, with their meals being in area restaurants and ours a traditional meal at our home. We make a rolled beef-rib roast, prepared on the 50+ year old rotisserie that belonged to my parents before they moved to an apartment. For dessert, we always make pies. This year it was apple, apple blackberry, and maple-and-brown-sugar pecan.
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B got extra fancy with the crust for the pecan with tiny Christmas tree cutouts along the edge!
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I was too tired from the shingles to be much help in the kitchen, although I did peel and slice most of the apples for the pies. It was odd not to be (wildly) orchestrating everything and everyone in the kitchen, but I and everyone else enjoyed the meal immensely. I had to absent myself from some of the activities while my sisters were here in order to rest, but I was grateful to be well enough to enjoy their visit. Anti-viral meds are wonderful!

T and I attended Christmas vigil Mass tonight at 6, with T’s former handbell choir and the instrumental ensemble and choir providing music. During the intercessions, we prayed for Sister Rose Margaret Noonan, csj, whom I consider one of my spiritual mothers. She passed away last night. She lived a life of service to God and people as a Sister of Saint Joseph of Carondelet for many decades – she was in her upper 90s – and lived the priestly life to which she was called to the extent possible within the current structure of the Catholic Church. While I’m sad that she is not here any longer, I rejoice knowing that she lives in the joy of God’s presence in heaven.

B has baked date and cranberry breads for Christmas breakfast. There will be stockings and presents to open, although that will be relatively quick as not much Christmas shopping transpired. No one is very fussed about there being many fewer than usual Christmas presents this year. Anything we really need will get purchased in the days and weeks ahead. There is a brunch reservation up at Good Shepherd Village dining room for us to eat with the three resident grand/parents. There will be time for gift exchange with them and then it may be naptime. While I am lucky that my case of shingles is not very severe, there is still some pain and fatigue, so I am trying to be reasonable and plan some down time.

I wish a very merry Christmas to all who celebrate it and gifts of peace, joy, and harmony to all!

Joanne C.

A new excuse

A few days ago, I gave myself an excused absence from posting.  I now have a new excuse. I have shingles. I started on anti-viral meds fairly early in the course of things, so, while I am uncomfortable and not sleeping well, I am not having the extreme pain that I have heard others describe. My family is taking over nearly all the holiday prep and chores. I did manage to address envelopes for holiday greetings to go in the mail today…

Addendum:  I have been participating in Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday and Stream of Consciousness Saturday posts regularly – until the last few weeks when things have been pretty hectic. I didn’t even look at the prompt this Friday, but, in reviewing some of the blogs I follow by email this morning, I realized that I had inadvertently posted on the SoCS prompt this week because the prompt was “excuse.” So I am adding this explanation and message and adding the link to create the pingback to Linda’s blog. http://lindaghill.com/2014/12/19/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-december-1914/  Not bothering with the badge, though…

Christmas cards

Much of my writing time this month has been taken up by Christmas cards. While many holiday preparation tasks have been retired, evolved, or relegated to others over the years, I continue to make writing and sending cards one of my top priorities.

Perhaps due to absorbing the etiquette of my childhood, I still sign and address cards the old-fashioned way – by hand. On some cards, I also write notes. For the few to whom I write longer letters, I do resort to writing on the computer and printing out the enclosures.

Because I have a long-standing tendon problem with my writing arm, I have to pace myself, spreading the task over ten days or so to keep my arm functional. I take the time to choose a card that I think fits the recipient, and sign the card according to if the person knows me or my husband better, with the more familiar person’s name first. I even choose the postage stamp that I think the recipient will like – Madonna stamps for those who are more religiously observant and secular stamps for those who are more cultural observers of Christmas or who are non-Christians to whom I am sending New Year’s wishes.

This is sounding perhaps a bit obsessive, but it is important to me to connect to friends and family at this time of year, even if we can seldom, if ever, meet in person. My list has friends going back to our teen years, college friends, neighbors and former neighbors, friends from our adult decades, and relatives, only some of whom send cards to us, but all of whom it is important to me to reach out to at this time, to let them know that I am thinking of them and wishing them well.

This year was especially poignant for me as I needed to start a new Christmas address book after using my former one for ten years. As I copied addresses into my new book, I paused over the names of those I have lost, not just the elder generation who had passed away but also a couple of friends closer to my age. It reminds me that there is no guarantee that my recipients will be here next Christmas – or that I will be. 

So, I will make the time, as long as I am able, to connect at this time of year and to send wishes of peace and love.

I wish a wonderful Christmas to those who observe it and peace, contentment, and love in 2014 to all!