Sunday, December 21, 2014

random solstice, christmas, holiday thoughts

I got out of bed at 7 am and opened the bedroom curtain to find it was PITCH dark outside. Not even a hint of light. About 7:30, it started to get a little lighter but not much. Whoa. Winter Solstice! Good thing I had a little celebration planned for the afternoon at exactly 5:03. It would have been nice to do this out in the sunshine but it was cold and gray and wet...so I didn't.



I set out these little things: a bunny, two crystals, three candles, a glass of tea, and a cookie. I played Here Comes the Sun by the Beatles and read a poem called Winter Grace. It was a lovely moment. Gus was very curious but it might have been the promise of a cookie and not the ancient ritual of the solstice.

Woody loves bags and boxes. If he is sound asleep in the bedroom and hears a box being opened, he tears into the living room to investigate. He likes most kinds of bags but especially the kind he can hide in completely.


I bought a new Santa hat today and then wore it while I finished shopping. The young girl at the store gave me a funny look when I asked her to remove the tag so I could wear it. It's a nice one with leopard trim. I think I'll wear it to the HyVee tomorrow.


I got a gift card for $15 from my volunteer employers at the NCHS, which I appreciated very much. I wanted to buy my favorite coffee so I went to the coop, filled a bag, then asked the fellow to weigh it to see how close I got. $14.99! Bingo!


I heard a woman in a restaurant today go on a rant about people saying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. She said she is so offended that she turns and walks away. Really? I bet Jesus would approve of that attitude.

Time to go to bed.


Beautiful article about the dark of winter

I hope I am not breaking any copyright laws by posting this here, although I most likely am. I love this article and this is the only safe place to archive it.

I'm going outside to celebrate the Solstice at 5:03. I have a candle, some crystals, a cup of tea, and a poem.

The Invitation of December
BY BARBARA MAHANY (@BARBARAMAHANY), GUEST CONTRIBUTOR

There is something about December, all right. And I call it a gift.

It might be my ancient Celtic roots, or maybe it’s my monastic inclinations, but give me a gray day, a day shrouded in mist and peekaboo light. Give me a shadowed nook to slip into, and I wrap myself in the cloak of utter contentment.

It’s dark all right, come December, month of the longest night, when minute by minute our dot on the globe is darkening. Today, December 21st, darkness shrouds all but nine hours — give or take a few minutes and seconds — of mainland America's hustle and bustle.

Yet darkness to me is alluring; it calls me to turn inside, to be hushed, to pay attention. And mine is a lonely outpost.

December, most everyone else complains, is unbroken darkness. And they’re grinding their teeth when they say it. The way I see it, though, maybe the saddest thing is, we’ve blinded ourselves to the darkness. Cut ourselves off from the God-given ebb and the flow of darkness and light. It’s poetry, the rise and the fall of incandescence and shadow, measured in lumens per square foot. But, mostly, it’s lost on us — bright lights, big city.

Fact is, we live in a lightbulb world: LED, CFL, halogen, fluorescent — blaring, glaring, blinking 24/7, especially in modern-day December. When’s the last time you tiptoed out your kitchen door, or onto a fire escape, and took in the sky show? It’s there every night: the stars and the moon, waxing or waning, a night-after-night lesson in fractions. Lesson in wonder.

I say, celebrate the darkness — landscape of discovery, of finding our way only by engaging, igniting, heightening our deeper senses, the senses of the heart and the soul, the intellect and the imagination.

Consider how attuned you are to sound and touch and danger when it’s late at night and you can’t find the light switch, and you’re groping your way up an unfamiliar staircase. Or, you’re out in the woods trying to clomp from sleeping bag to gosh-darned outhouse without falling into the brambles — or the icy-cold creek.

The truth is: Darkness draws out our deep-down depths. Darkness is womb, is seed underground. Darkness is where birthing begins, incubator of unseen stirring, essential and fundamental growing.

December, I like to think, is when God cloaks the world — or at least the northern half of the globe — in what amounts to a prayer shawl. December’s darkness invites us inward, the deepening spiral — paradoxical spiral — we deepen to ascend, we vault from new depths.

At nightfall in December, at that blessed in-between hour, when the last seeds of illumination are scattered, and the stars turn on — all at once as if the caretakers of wonder have flown through the heavens sparking the wicks — we too, huddled in our kitchens or circled ‘round our dining room tables, we strike the match. We kindle the flame. We shatter darkness with all the light we can muster.

The liturgical calendar, prescriptive in its wisdoms, lights the way: It gives us Advent, season of anticipation, of awaiting, of holding our breath for spectacular coming. Season of dappling the darkness with candled crescendo.

And therein is the sacred instruction for the month: Make the light be from you. Deep within you.

Seize the month. Reclaim the days. Employ ardent counter-culturism, and do not succumb.

Plug your ears the next time you hear Muzak Jingle Bells. Instead, fill your iPhone with Gregorian Chant or the 12th century symphonia of mystic and abbess Hildegard of Bingen. Be in the cave. Away from the crowd.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, the great Jewish thinker and one of my heroes, talks about Shabbat — every week’s holy Sabbath pause — as erecting the cathedral of time, the Jewish equivalent of sacred architecture, only for Jews it’s the sanctification of time, not space. Writes Heschel: “Learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year.” I say, build yourself a tucked-away chapel, a humble half hour’s chamber of silence, of prayer, of deepening.

Here’s a radical thought, for December or otherwise: Live sacramentally — yes, always. But most emphatically in the month of December.

What do I mean? To be sacramental is to lift even the most ordinary moments into Holiness. Weave the liturgical into the everyday. Look to Jesus, for starters. Bread and wine, everyday agrarian foodstuffs, he made into the most sacred sacramental feast.

Live sacramentally: Sit down to a dinner table — even dinner for one — set with intention. Ditch fast food. Embrace all that’s slow. And with purpose. Light candles at dinner. Light the Advent wreath. And if you’re Jewish, blaze the menorah. If you’re Jewish and Catholic, as my family is, well bring on the fire battalion, we’re lighting every which flame.

A dear friend of mine laughs about being a person of “smells and bells,” and by that he means a certain affinity for the burning of incense and chiming of carillons. The candle, the tintinnabulation of the bells, it sets off a deep-down stirring in a Catholic or an Anglican of certain age, it echoes of our not-so-distant past. And what I love about the coining of that phrase, “the smells and the bells,” when I pause and really think about it, is that it reminds me that deep in the heart of our spiritual DNA, we are hard-wired to respond to the liturgical, to pulse with reverence at a life lived sacramentally, slowly, marveling at the magnificence, yes, at each and every turn.

Maybe we’re most purely and purposefully alive when we turn our backs to — press against — a guzzled-down life that pays no attention, that goes with the flow, that “kills a few hours,” that takes it — all of it, any of it — for granted.

And why? Why are we screeching the brakes, dialing down all the noise? Why are we ardently not joining in on a December punctuated by office-party folderol, and speed-dial shopping, and holiday cards canon-balled out of the printer, without so much as a touch of the human hand?

Because this is our one chance at December this year — and who knows how many Decembers we might have.

December is invitation. December is God whispering, “Please. Come. Closer.” Discover abundance within. Marvel at the gifts I’ve bestowed. Listen for the pulsing questions within, the ones that beg — finally —to be asked, to be answered. Am I doing what I love? Am I living the life I was so meant to live? Am I savoring, or simply slogging along?

December is invitation. Glance out the window. Behold the silence of the first snowfall. Stand under heaven’s dome and watch the star-stitched wonder: Orion, Polaris. Listen for the love songs of the Great Horned Owl. Be dazzled. To be dazzled is a prayer.

Mary Oliver, the poet saint, tells us, “attentiveness is the root of all prayer.” And reminds us that our one task as we walk the snow-crusted woods or startle to the night cry of the sky-crossing goose is “learning to be astonished.”

Ever astonished.

Renaissance scholar and poet Kimberly Johnson says, “I want to live my life in epiphany.”

So do I.

Maybe, so do you.

And December, at the cusp of winter, season of fury and stillness, December demands our attention. It is a month draped in myth and legend. It is a month that rings with the power of the simplest story, the one we wait for — childlike, rapt, noses pressed to the window, scanning the heavens for bright and shining light.

December invites us be our most radiant selves. And we find that radiance deep down in the heart of the darkness. The darkness, our chambered nautilus of prayer. The coiled depths in which we turn in silence, to await the still small voice that whispers the original love song. Chorus and refrain, inscribed by the One who Breathed the First Breath.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

ah, well again

Regis sent me this beautiful photo of the sunrise yesterday when he took Gus for a walk. It was a bitterly cold morning and I bet there were sun dogs later. Such a sun shiny day and I was stuck inside.


I worked three days this week and ugh, I might have made a mistake. I am behind at home, I am cranky from all the mental stimulation, and I haven't seen the sun. Did I mention that I haven't seen the sun?


We went to Pet Expo last night for emergency dog food. We usually are stocked up but somehow, we used the last cup at lunch time yesterday. Gus seemed to know because at 5:00, he stood staring morosely at the empty bin. If you look in the back of this picture, Santa is in the check-out line. I waved when we came in but he was a customer and not an event so I didn't intrude to ask for a photo. I was amazed that most people just went about their business and ignored him.


I spent the day at my volunteer job. Here is evidence that I do, in fact, do this. I love the way the sun comes in the ceiling panels/sky lights, whatever you call them.


I am off to a Captain Livestrong event this evening...the graduation of the current class. They are always very moving and lovely.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

a dark time of the year


I have a day light. I try to get out in the sunshine when we have some. I try to do the things the people who know, recommend. But it descends...the dark of winter.

Even in making plans for a Christmas celebration. I send an email, I get impatient and cranky, nobody understands. I cry.

There is not an explanation.

My cousin calls to tell me she had a life-changing event yesterday; she was struck by a car as she crossed a street. She could easily have died. One head knock away from the other side. We both cry as we talk about the trauma from that...like rape or cancer. She could have died.

They make fun of me. Say I have a bad memory because they told me they were coming. And what's the big deal?

Maybe there is not a big deal. Maybe I am a little crazy and controlling.

I am sorry.

Ah, well.



Tuesday, December 16, 2014

woody has the right idea


Nap away the gray days. I had decided to come to terms with winter and darkness this year. My plan included walks in the moonlight, snow shoeing, snow men and snow angels, candles in the evenings. Somehow none of that works very well when it's 40 degrees, all the snow is gone, and it's rainy and foggy. New plan needed desperately.

I just searched for "winter" in my blog posts. Now, that is a depressing list of rants. You can find it here. One of the subject lines has to do with all the people I knew who fell down that winter. Good grief.


I am subbing for the media guy at the high school today. I enjoy being in the library...lots of books and kids reading books. It makes for a nice day.

I have not been exercising much lately and I can feel it. I walk with Regis occasionally and keep having the idea that I will get back to the gym but so far, it hasn't happened. Maybe I need a new thing...belly dancing or something. Oh, good grief.

I just had a molasses cookie for breakfast. Now I'm going to add up the signs that I might be suffering from seasonal affective disorder. Craving sun. Sleeping. No interest in usual activities. Lack of movement. Yup...adds up to that. Turning on the day light, going to the gym this evening, thinking happy thoughts.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

holidays

I love the holidays. Really, I do. But it's so easy to get overwhelmed with busy-ness and shoulds. This year, I may not do cards or a letter. We're trying to be guided by what feels right in the moment. Being in a hurry does not feel right.




Things I do love: Santa, shopping for surprise gifts, baking, sharing food with friends, mailing things to small children, holiday music (I have a new playlist with more than six hours of music!), and some version of decorating. I remember seeing in a magazine once, pictures of a family in a huge log home decorated by professionals, they wore matching pinafores, and even the men and the dogs matched. There wasn't a thing out of place. Yeah, that's not what it looks like here, but we've decided to be happy with our imperfection.


Last night we went to see some great music at the Wine Cafe in Mankato. The venue was a little small for the large sound but it was fun. Today, I'm taking a friend to Mankato to a shop in Old Town. Regis thinks he has to drive the Gus bus tonight but it isn't on the calendar so he might be imagining that. I have more baking to do....bread, cut-out cookies for the kids to frost tomorrow, and my grandma's molasses cookies with white frosting and sprinkles. 

Yesterday I mailed a bag full of packages. I sent a package to Mom, to our friends in Iowa, to the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, to a woman in Louisiana, and little packages of knitted finger puppets to the small children of nieces and nephews. I have a few yet to go...one to my cousin in Denver, my cousin in Arizona, to Karen in New Jersey, and to three little girls in Ohio.

This week will be busy. Haha! I ran into a woman I know who works at the elementary school in town. She asked if I would be interested in subbing for the nurse. First, I said yes, that might be fun. But...I asked, "Will there be puke involved?" Oh, yes, she said, lots of puke. Nope, can't do it.

Well, off to commence my busy-ness again.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

the captains make a road trip


This is me with Kristi, my Livestrong instructor. She is amazing because she believes love always wins.

We heard this week about another member of my group, Mary Reichel, who has had a nasty recurrence of her cancer. Mary was diagnosed with cervical cancer two years ago but had a brain aneurysm before she could complete her treatment. Now, the cervical cancer has come back with a vengeance in her abdomen. She is a single mom of two kids and she had a job with no benefits and no sick time.

First of all, it makes me so angry that in our wealthy country where baseball players make millions of dollars per game, THIS kind of shit can happen to people. No sick time? No benefits? Heartless bastards.

So, Kristi and I texted a few times yesterday morning. I said Captain Livestrong might need to make a trip to Rochester. You don't mention anything on a whim to Kristi...you better just get in the car if you do. Two hours later, we are going down the road, Captain Livestrong and Captain Lovestrong.

We got some funny looks in the hospital corridors but they are trained professionals and try to maintain their composure. A couple of maintenance men in the elevator wanted to hear the story and a couple other people laughed and clapped and said more people should dress like this. We agreed.

Mary was tickled to see us and I'm glad we were there. She had gone down Tuesday for a routine exam and even though she had not been well for a couple months, did not know it was this serious. She had been alone for two days waiting for family to come from far away places to help with treatment decisions.

I am fairly worthless in situations like this, staring dumbly like a deer in the headlights, but Kristi is a take charge kind of woman and had questions for the oncologist and the radiology consultant. By the time we left, Mary's cousin was there and her brother was expected any minute. We left her in good hands.

It felt like sacred moments we spent with her. I am not sure why.

P.S. Don't be concerned about my violation of her privacy. All of this information is on her fund-raising page which is very public and going around Facebook like wildfire. You can't be in straits like this and not be willing to ask people for help. You can't sit back in the shadows being private. Say a prayer for Mary and if you are able, make a donation. She is a sweet person and doesn't need to be worried about money at a time like this.

Friday, December 05, 2014

no pics...just words

I had an infusion of Zometa the other day to stave off the effects of osteoporosis. I think if it had only been the O, I would have passed but I always have this lingering fear of cancer traveling to my bones and setting up a recon camp. That would be pretty shitty. So, even though my doctor doesn't say this will help that, it makes sense in my head. And yes, I got my MD on the internet.

The first 12 hours were fine, then I woke up at midnight feeling like I had been stuffed in a gunny sack and beaten with a rubber hose. Every inch of my body, inside and out, hurt like a bitch. There are no other words. When I moved my head it bonged like Big Ben. Nothing helped because I avoid NSAID drugs. My nurse, who said these nasty symptoms have been known to last a month, convinced me to try it. So, tear up my stomach...just make the headache go away.

I spent 36 hours in bed, whining, demanding, sleeping, and trying to roll over from time to time. I feel better so far this morning so I am hoping that the worst is past.

I found out last night that my friend, Mary, who had cervical cancer, then a brain aneurysm, has now been diagnosed with cancer in her stomach area. Sweet Jesus. It puts my 36 hours of misery into a different perspective.

I woke up at 4 and have been writing on blogs, reading blogs, and reworking a poem for my writing group. I also started doing some research on cabins or resorts for a family gathering next summer. Boy, they don't give those things away. The last one I priced was $1,500 for four days and they have a limit of 8 people. Guess we'll have a lottery to see who has to stay home.

I have a giant mess to clean up today. We bought groceries before my appointment the other day and we got them into the kitchen, but now there are piles of chocolate chip bags, evaporated milk, flour, and other assorted sundries everywhere. Regis would put them away but if that happens, I might not know where they are in the end.

I have had a terrible time finding a book I like to read lately. I read Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See this fall and it was one of my all-time favorite books. One of those books you want to start over as soon as you finish. I started another book by him and I love his writing but the pace is so absolutely glacial that I am not sure I can make it.

I wrote a long letter to my friend, Brenda, this week then a long letter to my niece, Rachel in Hawaii. Rachel sent me the sweetest hand-written note and I loved it so much I carried it around for weeks. I've decided instead of factory Christmas cards (address labels, printed letter, envelope stuffing) I will try to write a real card. I like to get cards with some writing in them...not just names.

I'm off to yoga, writing group, and a massage today. There might be a short nap in there somewhere since my sleep has been sporadic in the past few days...lots of it just not lots of it in a row.

Going to see my friends Betsy, Melissa, Vickie, Michele, Cheryl, and maybe Joanne and Richie today. That's a great day!