a family tradition of “orphan ornaments”

My daughter just won an Amazon gift card for submitting this true story to some website that was having a contest. I thought it is worth posting here.

My father had a tradition every Christmas — he’d “rescue” a new “orphan ornament” from some store. He’d hunt for these strange, oddly made ones that looked like mistakes (like one riding a hobby horse, but the horse was actually impaled through the little wooden elf body) and otherwise would be rejected or left behind. Like the Island of Misfit Toys. He’d get one or a few and add them to the tree. I lost my father a few years back quite suddenly and unexpectedly — the orphan ornaments came home with me and we hang them with our own son, now ten, each year — in memory of “Pa”. We honor him, and a lesson (albeit maybe accidental) on acceptance, tolerance and reaching out a hand to those who might otherwise be overlooked. Even now, as we begin our search for a family dog at different rescues, our son gravitates towards those that are listed as “still waiting” or “overlooked” for some reason, wanting to give them what they need. It’s silly, it’s sweet, and it instilled in us a way of thinking that was probably unintentional as far as his reason for getting the ornaments, but that had an effect on us nonetheless.

It’s a Lego Christmas

He got all the Lego sets he wanted: a complete police station, a chinook helicopter, and a (no longer made. so thanks to ebay) a Coast Guard rescue boat. He kind of made my morning when the first thing he said when he opened the police station was “Oh look, a female police officer!” He already put the boat and helicopter together and is working on the police station.

I look at the hundreds of little Lego pieces and my brain locks up. I am terrible at anything that smacks of putting puzzle pieces together. The “spatial relations” part of any IQ test is the part on which I did the worst. I wonder if I wouldn’t have that problem if I had Lego to play with when I was a kid. But it was the 40s, and what I had were dolls. Lots of them, with every imaginable accessory. When my brother came along in the 50s, I played with his Lincoln Logs, but those aren’t as complex as Lego, so that part of my brain never really got enough exercise.

We are all coughing and nose-blowing, and it’s been going on for almost two months. I’m sick of being sick. The antibiotics only took care of my sinus swelling. The rest has to be viral, and it’s wearing us all down. (Except for my grandson, who is having too much fun with his Lego stuff.)

In desperation I am making a concoction of onion, garlic, honey, and lemon juice. I’m a firm believer in the power of onions and garlic anyway, so I figured it was worth a try. After the stuff sits overnight, you take the liquid by the teaspoonful or put it in tea.

I think it’s time for a nap. By then, he should be finished putting together the three-story Lego police station, complete with jail cells, mobile command center, K-9 unit, criminals, and police officers — including the one token female.

celebrating the power of myth
at Christmas

While my Catholic upbringing did not manage to keep my faith alive, it did, however, instill in me a connection to the power of myth. Well, in truth, Joseph Campbell was a bigger influence in that arena, but the point is that I am enamored of myths of all kinds. Hence, this little altar that I have always set up in one form or another.

This one features a porcelain statue of Our Lady of Lourdes that originated in Lourdes, France, sometime in the 1920s and was passed down from my grandmother, to my mother, to me; my mother’s statue of St. Anthony that I keep around to focus on when I can’t find something I know I put somewhere but can’t find; a reproduction of the ancient Venus of Willendorf statue; a traveling Buddha given to me by my former/late husband; and a miniature Kwan Yin cameo. Off to the right, hanging on the wall is a representation of African goddess Acua’ba given to me one Christmas by my son.

Each of these icons has a personal meaning for me, and, while I do not make sacrifices on this “altar,” (as the definition indicates it is used for), I do on occasion stop in front of it and let those deep memories and meanings move through me. It’s the closest to prayer that I come, being an atheist.

Each year about this time, I seem inclined to post something somewhere that refers to the ancient pagan origins of Christmas. Inevitably, someone from my Catholic past feels inclined to take issue with my insistence on the difference between fact and myth.

Like Carl Sagan, I can feel awe without having any kind of faith. Like Joseph Campbell, I can feel empowered by myth without needing to believe. I guess that’s hard for some people to understand.

Contrary to what I have been called, I am not a “hater;” I am tolerant of all faiths that have humane values. I just don’t subscribe to any faith-based system myself.

And, at this time of year, I am reminded of the myths surrounding the birth of Jesus, in addition to always being surprised at how little critical thought “believers” give to what they believe.

But I guess that’s what “faith” is: belief without factual evidence.

And so I remain faithless but awed and empowered nevertheless.

thinking of my mother on father’s day

It’s Father’s Day tomorrow, and I’ll think about him then.

But today I’m thinking about my mother because we find ourselves in East Sandwich MA driving along roads that we drove with her a dozen or so years ago when I took her on the last vacation she had.

When I rented the house we are now in (for this week), I had forgotten that we all had been out this way before, before dementia took my mother away into her own world.

It was my son-in-law who recognized familiar sites — the place we had gone several times for ice cream; the miniature golf course where my mom actually did very well for a little old woman in her 80s. And then I remembered, too — taking her into Hyannis to shop, taking her on a nature walk through some strange grove of bamboo that also served as exhibit space for even stranger sculptures. She had time to sit and laugh with her granddaughter and grandson-in-law. It was a good time for all of us.

I think of her now after we walked on the beach this evening — my daughter, her husband, and the soon-to-be nine-year old.

Someday, after I’m gone, I hope that they will smile when they remember this vacation with me — despite my limping along with a bout of vacation-annoying sciatica.

I am thinking of my mom today and wishing that I had been able to giver her more chances to enjoy her family while she was still able to enjoy them.

I am looking forward to this week of relaxation and adventure with my family. (Even the drive out with several stops to ease my grandson’s car-ride queasiness was part of the adventure.) There are plans to go to Plymouth and make other day trips around the Cape. Chances are, however, unless my sacroiliac calms down, I might just sit on the deck and read.

After all, I’m on vacation, and Cape Cod Bay is just the perfect place to be.

independence

There is a lingering scent of bug spray throughout the house this July 4, left over from yesterday’s cook-out and trek down the street to watch the fireworks. I had the option of not hanging out in the 90 degree heat with the forty-something-aged parents and their young kids and not standing around in the mosquito and Japanese beetle invested night with the hundreds of others, necks craned to the sky. I chose to hang out in my own cool space, making periodic appearances to gather up my food and drink and interact a bit with the guests.

Such is the privilege of age — especially in my situation, where I have few responsibilities to anyone but myself. (Except, of course, my 94-year-old demented mother, whom I will visit in a few days to help with her care.)

It is Independence Day in another way for me. For the first time in some 25 years, I am off an anti-depressant. It served it’s purpose, and I was done with the lack of depth of feeling that is the both the benefit and the curse of those meds. It took three months to wean myself off, and I am seeing a counselor to help with the transition, but it’s worth it.

I’m writing more, feeling more, doing more. I’m almost done with the three-dimensional wall hanging that I’m creating for this virtual exhibit. I’m quite pleased with the result, and I have ideas for more such projects. And I’ve begun a sweater for my daughter like the one below I made for myself, but in another color.

I’m even feeling more sympathy for my poor mother, and, in a new strange way, I’m looking forward to spending some time with her, trying to ease her weary mind.

I am thinking a lot about being the age I am (70) and what I want for myself, which is seeming to be so very different from what I wanted even a dozen years ago. I am trying out some alternative ways to relieve the pains of joint and spine problems, and they seem to be working.

Today is Independence Day, and despite the turmoil and despair in so many other parts of this world, in this small space that my life takes up, it’s a good day.

Yes, it’s a good day for singing a song,
and it’s a good day for moving along
Yes, it’s a good day, how could anything go wrong,
A good day from morning’ till night

Yes, it’s a good day for shining your shoes,
and it’s a good day for losing the blues;
Everything go gain and nothing’ to lose,
`Cause it’s a good day from morning’ till night

I said to the Sun, ” Good morning sun
Rise and shine today”
You know you’ve gotta get going
If you’re gonna make a showin’
And you know you’ve got the right of way.

`Cause it’s a good day for paying your bills;
And it’s a good day for curing your ills,
So take a deep breath and throw away your pills;
`Cause it’s a good day from morning’ till night

doing nothing

I can’t remember the last time I actually sat and did nothing, mind emptying into the slowly drifting clouds and the muted chirps of birds of all kinds. The air smells faintly of marsh. The sun is warm. The breeze is cool. I am thinking of nothing as I lay on my back, doing nothing being in a place safe from stress and worry,

This is a panoramic view of the estuary behind our cottage at Moody’s Cottages in Wells, Maine. (I have an iphone app that “stitches” photos together to make a panorama. Love that iphone!)

Right now I am at the library, using its free wifi while the rest of the family checks out the local fire house and police station. My grandson is building a collection of t-shirts and patches from such places in every town he visits. He knows as much about fire trucks and ambulances as those who actually work in them. He charms them into giving him tours and explaining what all the equipment does. He also likes to throw stones in the estuary.

Last night I finished reading Alice Hoffman’s The Story Sisters. She is by far my favorite writer; no one captures the magic of ordinary things the way she does. Thunder storms promised for tomorrow means that I will immerse myself in Kate Atkinson’s Human Croquet. I just discovered her recently, and I’m hooked.

It’s going to be hard to get back to the hard real world that awaits me, scheduled with a week’s visit to my mother’s. But for now, it’s time for me and lobster and the ocean and the vast sky over the estuary, where I can lose myself in the sounds of silence.

Delayed Gratification

We were supposed to leave for Maine today, but my grandson had a stomach bug and fever yesterday. He seems fine today, but we gave him another day home just to make sure.

It’s been a while since any of us have been able to go away for a whole week, and we are all looking forward to the ocean and the nature preserves and the deck on our cottage that looks out over an estuary. My grandson and his dad will fish, and my daughter and I will just veg out.

Time is passing too quickly for my liking and taking with it too much of the physical capacities I’ve always taken for granted. Degenerative disc disease is not uncommon for people my age, but mine is worse than normal. There’s not much I can do at this point — eat healthy, stretch….

I remember that my mother had a chinning bar attached near the top of an open doorway, and she would hang from it by her hands several times a day. I think it helped a lot with her spinal problems, and now I have one here. When I hang from it, I often can hear the pops of my spine decompressing.

I spent a little time online last night searching for ways to decompress the spine. Hanging by your hands from a bar is one of them — one of the least expensive and easy to use.

I am lazy and things I wanted and/or wanted to do always came easy to me. Notice I said “things I wanted.” Maybe I didn’t want the things I didn’t want because they didn’t come easy to me.

I was never one to delay gratification — whether it was eating chocolate or buying a new pair of jeans. This is something I am learning to tolerate now in my elder years.

I think of my dementia-plagued mom, who seems to be able to be gratified by so little — a globular gourmet lollipop that she can suck on for hours, a simple song that I make up as I go along.

Tomorrow, Maine, and some gratification for me. In another few weeks, I make the journey to try to give my mother some little gratification. (I wish I could take another vacation after that!)

Meanwhile, I am continuing to see a chiropractor for thoracic spine therapy, since the muscles are still pretty sore and in spasm from my fall off the bed at my mother’s a little over a month ago.

I will probably never delight in Salsa dancing again. And that’s too bad, because I always found the movements and the music very gratifying.

Memorial Day is for the Dead

I invite you to link here and read my son’s post, entitled as above, which begins thusly:

It says so right on the tin: “[Memorial Day] commemorates U.S. soldiers who died while in the military service”.

The key word in all of this is “died”, not “served” or, for that matter, “serves”. This day isn’t for anyone who ever found themselves in the military of the United States, or for those who find themselves there today. None of these truths dishonors living veterans (who have a day) or active duty personnel.

Death is different. Death is singular. Death is separate. Death is final. The point is to set aside a day in which we remember those whose service took them all the way past that final line. Whether or not they died for a just cause, they died in our name……..cont’d

And while I’m on the subject, I offer for your illuminination Mark Twain’s “War Prayer.”

a Mother’s Day repost

On Mother’s Day for the past several years, I have reposted the following message to my two, now grown, offspring. I wouldn’t be a mother without them, after all, and I wish I had been a better one, after all.

Some women take to mothering naturally. I had to work at it. And so I wasn’t the best mother in the world. I would have worked outside the home whether I had become a single mom or not. And because I did, mine were latchkey kids, with my daughter, beginning at age 12, taking care of her younger brother, age 5, after school. I left them some evenings to go out on dates. Oh, I did cook them healthy meals, and even cookies sometimes. I made their Halloween costumes and went to all parent events at their schools. My daughter took ballet lessons, belonged to 4H (but I got kicked out as Assistant Leader because I wouldn’t salute the flag during the Vietnam War). I made my son a Dr. Who scarf and took him to Dr. Who fan events. I bought him lots of comic books, invited friends over to play, and taught him how to throw a ball.

But most of all, I think/hope I did for them what my mother was never able to do for me, — give them the freedom and encouragement to become who they wanted to be — to explore, make mistakes, and search for their bliss. I think/hope that I always let them know that, as far as I was concerned, I loved them just the way they were/are.

Not having had that affirmation from my mother still affects my relationship with her. I hope that my doing that right for them neutralizes all the wrong things I did as they were growing up.

So, you two (now adult) kids, here’s to you both. You keep me thinking, you keep me informed, you keep me honest, and, in many ways, you keep me vital. I’m so glad that I’m your mother.

So, in memory of those not-always-good ol’ days that you two somehow managed to survive with style, here you are, playing “air guitar and drums” — enjoying each other’s company sometime in the late 70s and bringing so much delight into my life.

70skids

Killing the Buddha at Christmas

I am watching the evolution of the third generation of our family’s non-believers. He’s 7 years old now, asking questions like “if everyone has a mother, than shouldn’t the first mother have had a mother.” And so he learns about evolution.

He doesn’t ask about god or the first Christmas. He knows the stories. The various creation stories. The various winter celebration stories. He knows that different people believe different things when it comes to all things “god.”

He’s never been to an actual church service, although he might when my 94 year old Catholic mother finally passes away. He understands death as the final human event, and he participated in our ritual when we sent his grandfather’s ashes into the sea. He understands the power of ritual, apart from its religious associations.

What causes him to wonder, to experience awe, are the questions of science. What makes him feel secure are the roots of family. What sparks his creativity is the vitality of this planet’s various mythologies.

I brought up two compassionate, ethical, moral children (now adults) without a belief in in god. If they feel the awesomeness of the divine around them, it is through the natural world and their connection to it. And through their example and teaching, my grandson is sensing that divine as well.

Some people find comfort in faith. That’s OK. It’s just not us.

But we do find comfort in some cultural traditions. Christmas, for example.

It’s Christmas Eve.

For dinner tonight, we will have beet barszcz and three different kinds of pierogi. My daughter has kept part of the family’s Polish food tradition.

We will open family presents tonight in front of the lit Christmas tree, and Santa will come when we are all asleep and fill our stockings. For us it’s a cultural thing, not a religious. After all, stories of virgin births are a part of almost every cultural mythology.

We will set a place for the absent member of our family, way out in Portland, Oregon, who, we hope, will enjoy the box of gifts we sent out to him.

On Christmas Day, we will go to my son-in-law’s family to continue the feast.

Christmas, Xmas, Yule, Saturnalia, Solstice. We celebrate our family and hope for a future in which we all will thrive.

Merry Christmas.