Saturday, January 23, 2016

Reflecting on this Snowy Day

“The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

I remember the hill today, in particular. And I feel a small pit in my heart for I’m not there, the moment has passed.

Today I sit under a warm roof, watching the snowflakes fall delicately on the bare branches. The sky gray, the earth silent. I sit in remembrance of days like this on the hill.

The evening before great anticipation swelled in the house, ready to burst with excitement for a day off and a day of play. Childhood memories are built upon such nights. Procrastinating bedtime in preparation for school the next day but overtly hoping to wake up to mom saying, “No school today!” then back to a warm bed to finish a dream then rise with great vivre.

Maybe pancakes would be made or a steaming bowl of oats but as soon as the energy was gobbled down the time came for the great bundle.

Ah, the great bundle. I dreaded these times. The toil and sweat to prepare three kids for the cold, dressing them in bulky, obstructive snow suits, squeezing their little piggies into rubbery, fleece lined boots while shoving mittens on their little kittens, placing the cherry of a pom-pom hat on their head, remnants of baby hair making one last stance before the strands of time fade to extinction.

The fussing and whining at such an effort. Boy, I was frustrated. Shame I couldn’t savor such fleeting tears.

Then out the door, a wave of arctic air flushing through, waking up whatever senses still lay sleeping. Sleds and saucers gathered and off they went. At this point I was typically still in my pajamas and robe, skating through the snowy, icy driveway in slippers, long enough to get the kiddies set up for some fun on the hill before I returned inside for a grasp at silence.

We lived on quite the hill. Not great topography for a family with three young kids, but when a winter storm hit, our house was the place all the neighbors, young and old, flocked. Life and limb was risked tearing down that hill, sometimes fast and far enough to skirt across the road and down the wooded ditch. Those were fun times, filled with reckless abandonment, liberatingly wild and carefree.

At first I would watch through the frosty window and laugh and giggle from a distance. I’d watch as the kids would fly down the hill, getting smaller and smaller from my line of vision until they’d crash to a stop laughing all the way, then trek back up for another adventure. It looked like such a joy ride and it was! I’d break out the camera and take some shots, then I would drag myself to partake in the fun, reminding myself that such activity would invigorate my aging soul.

It was cold outside but the smiles and excitement from the kids at their mom showing up to be a kid motivated me to brave the elements. And we rode down that hill, dodging trees and gullies. Gathering branches and stones, carrots, old scarves and hats, we built snowmen and named them. Stepping back into my childhood, I became one with my own kids, for that moment and that day, investing in a memory that I didn’t realize would become so etched in my mind.

Time to come in from the storm and have some hot chocolate and bake some cookies. Sipping coco by the fire, cheeks defrosting and pink, mittens hung to dry until a second wind blew by ready to start the winter dance all over again.

Today I sit in my warm, new home on a flat lot perfect for a young family, except when there is snow on the ground and no hill to ride down. And as happy and at peace as I am, I reflect with a dull ache in my heart on those days and times on the hill. All is quiet here.

I longed for today, a day to savor silence, not having to deal with the great dance of a winter bundle and attendance to three dependent, young heartbeats. Today is that day. There are no suits to stuff mittens in kittens and cherries on tops. Visions of hot coco and cookies are saved for another snow fall. This storm is calmer. Yet as calm and as peaceful and as blessed as today is, I have a small ache as I remember the hill and those days. And the memory pleads to ride them once again. If just for a moment.

Today, on this quiet, kid free day, in the warmth of a new life, I pause, close my eyes, take a sip from a phantom vision, knowing and grateful that life is good, then swallow the nostalgia triggered by a gentle flake falling on a tree under a gray, wintery sky.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Christmas Card 2015

“You can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle three things: a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights.” Maya Angelou

I know sending out Christmas cards, or “holiday” cards as is the more politically correct terminology, is becoming a dying fashion. However, I am old fashioned and feel strongly about keeping on my massive sized holiday “to-do” list. Yes, I could cut out the practice and save a couple of hundred dollars between stamps and custom ordered picture cards, but I take joy and spirit in creating, chronicling and reminiscing on the past year. I know those I send it to give it a warm glance then toss in the trash, maybe keeping until the season’s end,  but I keep my keepsake card and every year pull out to display and reflect on Christmas’s past.

In the really old days I’d send generic, store bought cards with pictures of sleighs, snow, and Santa. I’ve gone all out with expensive, customized, photo, fold cards that allow more room to write personalized, hand written notes. In the more recent years I’ve settled on the standard, 5 x 7 contemporary photo printed card which is a compromise between the two. I’ve included Christmas letters a few years and write them brimming with pride only to review months later and realize they sound stupid and braggadocio. I always add photos of the kids and sometime I myself am featured, and every now and then the pets make an appearance.

Sometimes I get the cards out on time, sometimes they become a New Year’s greeting. I always get them out and they always have pictures, those are two constants a recipient can always expect.

Last year’s card served to announce to my annual greeting card circle that I married and now have a blended family. We used a wonderful picture taken at our wedding celebration (we eloped!) of our big, happy blended family: seven total, two adults and five kids, at the time ages 6 through 16, three of mine, two teenage daughters of his. One big, happy blended family and a gorgeous card with me in my ivory gown, Kentucky derby party theme dressed crew with a big bouquet of red roses in my hand, fresh spring greenery in the background and all of us looking happily blended.

In response to the card I received many congratulations, and we framed the card in all its beauty and glory. This year I brought out the nicely framed card and displayed it on our foyer entry table next to the nativity scene. Time to create our Christmas card 2015.

Problem with this year was we didn’t have a group photo or photos of all the kids or any pictures of his teenage girls. Our big, happy blended family, in all truthfulness was not happy for everyone. Put it this way, I am a step mom to two teenage step daughters. Teenage, step, and girls. Read between the lines. There was no happy, blended family picture to be taken. I asked Magnum, “What should we do?” The brilliant man that he is suggested we just use a picture of our new home and have that also serve as a moving announcement. Wonderful!

I waited until I decorated the entire exterior to take the perfect shot of our new, festive home. I got a few good shots, along with our two dogs in the foreground lovingly chewing on some of the displayed, holiday arrangements in the urns.

Then I got carried away. I had done such a nice job decorating the interior of the house that I thought it wouldn’t hurt to add a couple of collage photos as well. I added a couple photos of us decorating the tree, (the figures of the younger three kids barely distinguishable), one of the piano with three nutcrackers and a Merry Christmas sign, and another of the foyer table with our card from last year. These were thumb print sized photos but I was satisfied as it represented not just our new home but of the joy taking place inside. In the process I managed to sneak an annual photo of my three kids which I have been doing since their birth while also getting the girls’ photo into the card, albeit a symbolic gesture in the thumb print sized photo of last years’ card next to the nativity scene. I felt like I had created a Christmas miracle.

I ordered 75 cards which totaled $165. I spend a moment reminiscing, proud that I completed Christmas card 2015 and quickly shared my genius with my mother. Her response was lack luster when I described the photo. “Well, don’t you think Magnum would be hurt that his girls aren’t in the card but your kids are?” I said, “What do you mean? They are in the card, in last year’s photo that I took a picture of and included.” To which my mom continued to harp that it wasn’t the same and wasn’t worth hurting feelings. To which I agreed and realized my genius creation was not genius but perhaps thoughtless and insensitive and selfish. Maybe I was a wicked step monster!

So I began to panic. I already ordered the cards. I didn’t think I could cancel the online order. My mother told me to forget about the money and make a new card. I made a last ditch effort to win her over for support by sending her a picture of the card so she could see it wasn’t that bad, so she could see the genius of my creation!

A little side note, I recently sent one of my teenage step daughters a friendly text message.

Technology being what it is, I sent my mom the photo of the card then, somehow when I followed up with my mother to ask her what she thought of the card, my follow up was sent to my step daughter. The text message read something like this: “So what do you think? If you zoom in you can better tell the pics. Is this offensive or hurtful cause girls are missing from photo?”

To which my step daughter responded, “What?” or also interpreted in texting slang, “WTF?”

Holy Christmas, I just created Armageddon! I was just about to pick Magnum up from the airport when I realized this guffaw. I started to panic. As a former special ops, you don’t get much past Magnum. He can read me like a book. I was in a Christmas pickle. First I had to respond to my step daughter before she reached out to her dad for an explanation. It was an honest mistake with sincere intentions but if I couldn’t explain myself then this situation could get out of control fast. Though before I was able to attempt damage control, Magnum was at the car door, tired from an overseas trip. We lovingly greeted one another then he immediately sensed something was wrong which didn’t take a human lie detector to distinguish. My face was beat red, my heart rate was elevated and I blurted out, “I did something very bad!” After an anxiety attack or two I told him about the Christmas card predicament.

Without going into too much detail, it wasn’t as big a deal as I envisioned. Call me a drama queen, I earned it. Magnum was cool and fine but did request I do a more generic card. I took the approach of honesty when explaining my bizarre text to my step daughter. I explained to her that I was just trying to create the perfect blended family Christmas card but didn’t have a recent group shot, and she responded, “Oh, lol.” I was able to cancel my first Christmas card order so that was a relief and, in the end, I created a “nice” moving announcement in the form of a festive, red and green themed Christmas card, wreaths and all. Our dogs Buddy and Daisy were featured and captured destroying my exterior Christmas décor which added an element of humor to such a behind the scenes drama laden card. And believe it or not I got it out BEFORE Christmas! In the end this really was a Christmas miracle.

So if you were one of the lucky ones to receive a lovely holiday greeting from us, there was a lot that went into this year’s card. You never know what goes on behind some people’s closed doors! My hope and wish for 2016’s Christmas card is to display one nice, happily blended family group shot.

Happy New Year! 

Original Card
Final Draft
Dogs destroying décor