Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve

As I look at the year 2011 looming in my sights I think about all the year's I've welcomed so far in my life. In my early years I spent many a New Year's Eve babysitting for other people while they partied with friends. I never enjoyed those long evenings, often falling asleep on couches or recliners while watching the ball drop in Time's Square. I'm quite sure I welcomed most of the later 1960s that way.

Once out of high school I spent those nights with friends, usually watching them drink themselves into oblivion while I again watched the ball drop in Times Square. I've never been much of a drinker and usually find it more amusing to see others make fools of themselves than join in myself.

Once I was married the next twenty years or more were spent in the warmth of my own living room with my husband. With four children it wasn't easy to get out and the late hours of that night were particularly expensive so unless I entertained at home, which I did occasionally, we didn't go anywhere.

The past ten or fifteen years have been more fun, with no obligations as parents we are free to have dinner with friends and if we're not invited someplace we go for an early dinner out and are in bed by midnight. This year we've been invited to a party at the lovely home of some dear friends and I'm looking forward to being with wonderful people in a warm and welcoming place.

No matter where I am on New Year's Eve I am always struck by the irony of the date. After all, it's just another day, like every other, and yet we assign so much significance to it. I assume that's because we humans need to measure life in segments and count off days. Everything is measured in time and days and months and years. It's a modern phenomenon - I'm quite sure in the Middle Ages people were not quite as tied to the calendar as we are today. But for us it's significant so New Year's Eve has become a touchstone in our lives. Another year. A new page. A fresh start.

This past year was a good one for me, following a few difficult ones. So tonight I'm celebrating the end of a good run. And hoping for another one in 2011. But life is uncertain and anything can happen. To my friends and family I wish for a wonderful, healthy, happy year in 2011. And if things are not so wonderful I hope for them all the gift of faith and the blessing of love. Because I know that with those two things in your life, you can survive the hard years. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A gift

I've been completely enjoying this holiday knowing that it's the second one I can consider an exceptional gift. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January of 2009 I had no idea whether or not I would live to see another Christmas, let alone two of them. I spent that entire month sitting in waiting rooms for medical tests that would tell us what my prognosis was and in those hours I had plenty of time to consider the idea that I may have experienced my last holiday with the people I loved. It was a hard thing to comprehend.

I determined after my surgery, (when my prognosis looked promising), that I would never again take a single day of life for granted, and I haven't. I've greeted each day as though it were my last, determined to enjoy it to the fullest and not complain about silly, unimportant things like weather or material possessions. And nothing in these two years has been as delicious and wonderful to me as Christmas. I've enjoyed every moment of both of them and savored the special times. I love the time with family and friends and soak it all in.

None of us knows whether we have just celebrated our last Christmas on earth. But I feel as though I've been given a wonderful gift. Just like Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life" I've seen the possibilities and learned not to take life for granted. Every day I have now is richer and fuller and I feel more alive that I ever have. Yes, it has been a gift. And in this season of giving I'm most grateful for it.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Leaving

The grandkids are leaving today. It's a funny thing but no matter how long they're here its never long enough. Because when they're gone, they're gone. I can't see them and don't get to talk to them all that often when they're in another state - schedules and busyness just get in the way.

The grandkids that live here are a different story of course. We see them regularly and a week never passes without the chance for hugs and laughter with them. But when there are entire states separating us, I mourn the distance between us and these three little ones.

It's been a wonderful visit and I am blessed to see them as often as I do. But I'm already thinking about when I'll be able to see them again. It just can't be often enough....

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pre-dawn

Very often I seem to wake up about 5am. In some ways its my favorite time of the day.

The morning is black as ink unless there happens to be a full moon, which there was this last week. When the moon is out there's a beautiful glow in the room because our window shades are always up and the window opened. I lay curl up under the down comforter, my face in the cold air and the rest of me snug and comfortable in an envelope of warmth. In the distance I hear the train coming into the station and then a few minutes later passing us on the way to Amagansett. In the night air the sound travels for miles. When the breeze is right I can smell fresh bagels being pulled from the oven over on North Main Street and when the newspaper arrives in the driveway I hear the distinctive thump on the stone.

When my mind is at ease and I'm at peace in my soul, this is one of my favorite hours of the day. Sometimes I doze again before I know its time to climb out and start my day. I find myself full of gratitude for an early morning reminder that life is rich and full and can easily be taken for granted. I don't want to ever forget that.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Snow



Yesterday the snow fell and this morning its still not over. Our first big storm and absolutely beautiful.

I sat in the window about 7:30 last night looking out at the front yard where white Christmas lights are wound all throughout our red maple tree. With the snow lining each branch and the ground covered in white, the lights gave the whole yard a wonderful glow. The tiniest of branches, normally not visible at night, stood out in stark relief as the light bounced off the snowy covering on each and every one. It reminded me of the movie Narnia when the children first come through the wardrobe and emerge into a winter world of white. Stunning.

The world is peaceful in the snow. Traffic is nearly non-existent, people mostly stay at home, and looking out on the world transformed is not to be missed. There is popcorn to pop and a fire in the fireplace and the house is cozy and warm. It was a wonderful end to a perfect holiday weekend.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Aftermath

Now the cleanup begins. There'll be a mandatory trip to the dump with papers, boxes, and ribbons, and sorting and distributing gifts to the various places they belong. Sigh!

Today the extended family will gather to exchange greetings and gifts and share a meal together. Somehow Christmas never seems quite complete until I've seen the siblings I've seen every year since the day I was born. I'm grateful that we all live in the same community so we see each other regularly, but still feel the need to touch base with them on holidays - especially Christmas. So I'm looking forward to that.

At the same time, my own children will be scattering as some head off to see their other families in other states. With our grandkids here from Pennsylvania we're looking forward to spending lots of time with them, enjoying what's left of their time here. It's going to be a good week.

I still maintain that Christmas should be a one-week celebration. When I spent time in Norway many years ago I appreciated the way they extended the holiday and spent time at each family member's home as the week progressed. I suppose since we are a more pluralistic nation that can't be, but it would be nice and people of all faiths would surely enjoy a week off every year courtesy of the government.

Maybe I'll start a movement. Who knows? I think it's a worthy idea.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry!

To all my readers wherever you are, I wish for you a blessed and joyous Christmas day! May you be surrounded by people you love, or content with your life whatever it may be. Each day is a gift. And this day reminds us of the greatest gift of all, when love came down to earth.

God bless us every one!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Time's up

I've never been able to understand the people who wait until Christmas Eve to do their shopping. A former boss of mine did it every year, walking in to a mall with his list and buying everything he needed late into the night. In my mind he was missing the best part of the holiday - the Christmas Eve dinners with the family, candlelight church services, the children's excitement, and relaxing in front of the fire. The idea of running around in a mall appalls me frankly. What is the attraction there?

Of course, one of the reasons I could never do that is that I'm a planner and everything always has to be done ahead of time. I have to leave home fifteen minutes before I need to in order to get wherever it is I'm going. And I have to have all my gifts bought, wrapped, and tagged before December is halfway over. But then again, different strokes for different folks! But tonight I'll be enjoying a meal with my family, singing at church, and heading to bed where I'll remember the excitement I felt when I was a child, waiting for Christmas morning.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Fresh greens

I said for years that I would never have an artificial Christmas tree in my house. I love the smell of fresh greens when I walk in the back door - it just says "Christmas". But two years ago someone handed us a nice, 6 ft. artificial tree and it was too good to turn down so we are now using it.

I longed for the aroma of pine every time I walked in the door so I went to the florist and picked up 25 ft of roping. I chopped it in half, and then one half in half again, and had my husband help me drape them over the windows in the living room and the picture window in the back room.Problem solved - the undeniable scent of pine permeates the house now and makes me smile when I come in. So we have the ease of an artificial tree and still enjoy the real pine fragrance I love so much.

Unfortunately, bringing that roping into the house brings back the one thing I hated about a real Christmas tree: cleaning up the dropped needles. By the time I get this stuff off the windows it will be prickly and dry and half of it will end up on the floor to be vacuumed up for weeks in the future. It seems as though bits and pieces of pine reproduce themselves and every time I clean there are a few more pieces to suck up.

Some day I'll figure out how to have the best of both worlds, but I'm not there yet.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Seasonal TV

Some of the Christmas movies are classics and I love them. Every year I look forward to watching "It's a Wonderful Life", "White Christmas", "Holiday Inn" and others. But then there are many, many really horrid ones and by the time Christmas day actually arrives I've had quite enough of them. For some reason my husband loves channel surfing and I see enough snippets of all those horrid entries in the seasonal market that I want to scream. I don't enjoy seeing Bill Murry as Scrooge, for instance, and anything animated is definitely off my list. And how many remakes of certain classics can they possibly do?

I'm sure all of them are favorites for someone and I don't want to disparage those who love the ones that I don't. But at some point its total overload and I'm ready to go back to regular television. But the fact that this week is all reruns of my favorite television shows and there's not much else to watch, perhaps I'll be catching a silly movie along the way. Oh well!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Pride

I was bursting with pride last week when the East Hampton Star did a feature article on my son. He came back to East Hampton three years ago to establish a business here after spending three years apprenticing with a luthier upstate New York. (A luthier is someone who makes and repairs stringed instruments).

As I looked as his photo and read his name in the headline I mused about what it is we're so proud of when it comes to our kids. After all, anyone who's had more than one of them knows very well that our influence on them is fairly limited. As the mother of four I watched in amazement as each of mine, all raised in the same home by the same parents, grew to be so different and unique to themselves. Each has their own personality, their own way of looking at life, and their own lifestyle. Put them together and there may be a family resemblance (although not really in our case) but that's where it ends, in the physical aspects of their beings. So I ask you, what have we got to be proud of?

I suppose a parent could take some pride in a gorgeous child if it had to do with genetics but I've seen plenty of families that would be hard pressed to play that card. Some look nothing like their parents (for better or for worse) and others would never be able to deny their parentage (again, for better or worse!). But their attributes and personalities, well that's a whole other issue. So I'm not quite sure why I or anyone else should feel that sense of pride at the accomplishments of their offspring.

Maybe it has more to do with pride for them, not of them. We've seen them through the tough years, watched they flounder and we wondered if they'd every find their way. We're pleased for them that they've accomplished things and established their independence.

Then again, perhaps it has to do with those scary years when they were toddlers and teens, and we are more proud of the fact that we managed to get them to adulthood in one piece than anything else. Not that luck doesn't have anything to do with that either, but sometimes the choices we made for them helped. And that's, I believe, totally legitimate pride!

http://www.borsackguitars.com/

Monday, December 20, 2010

Deep freeze

We've been in the low numbers for over a week now and I'm thinking soon we'll see skating on the pond if it holds. I love to see the kids skating in the winter and my favorite year was the one when there was ice for a solid two weeks from Christmas until after the kids went back to school. Every day the pond was crowded with families and it was a great holiday break. That was about fifteen years ago now and I've been waiting for a repeat ever since.

Of course I'm not a skating myself. I don't particularly like being outside in the cold, which is also why skiing doesn't really appeal to me. I guess if I lived in a more northern climate I'd be more inclined to embrace the winter sports but it's not that cold here and I'm happier being an indoor girl when the temperature drops too low. It's a great excuse to knit or sew and there are always closets to clean.

As long as we don't get snow on Thursday when my family will be on the road I'm not opposed to having a white Christmas. I love the Christmas lights when there's a covering of snow all over the ground to brighten the nights. And there's nothing anymore right than a white Christmas. As long as everyone is safe and sound at home and the family is together around the Christmas tree. It's the thing that memories are made of.

Since we're here in the deep freeze, who knows? Could be a reality.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Atmosphere

One of the things I love most about the holidays is the atmosphere. The nights are long - the longest of the year, and the temperature is low - really low. But in December, there is atmosphere to make up for the long cold nights.

There's something wonderfully cheerful about holiday lights everywhere. Turning any corner and seeing a display never fails to bring a smile to my face and lift my spirits. When I catch sight of a Christmas tree in the window of a home I think about how warm and comfortable it must be inside. I don't mind heading out into the cold night quite as much when I know there are decorated houses and beautifully lit storefronts to enjoy all along the way. I'm grateful for the people who take the time to make their lawns come alive and their houses so cozy. Visiting friends is always a treat as their homes are graced with fires in the fireplaces and great food to be shared. The atmosphere of "joy and goodwill" is undeniable. People are happy, social, and hearts are light.

I enjoy sitting in my own home too. I love seeing the tree in the back room, with the homemade ornaments representing generations of my family. The smell of fresh greens is so organic and walking in the back door makes me content just to be home. There is atmosphere to enjoy here as well as outside and I'm glad to just be alive and happy to be seeing yet another Christmas with the people I love.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

First snow

The weather out here on the East End is always interesting. We can never be sure what's going to happen, regardless of what they're saying on the NYC weather stations. For reasons having to do with the ocean being all around us, what happens here is pretty hard to predict.

Last Tuesday morning I left the house at 7am to go do my volunteer work at Southampton Hospital. We were having a little show shower but the roads were clean and nothing was sticking. I wasn't worried about driving and had checked the weather channel before I left home. It was smooth sailing until I hit Water Mill. Climbing the hill to the Hess Station there I was surprised to see the traffic moving slowly so early in the morning. By the afternoon the traffic light by the plaza there often makes for slow going, but this was really early for that. As I applied my brakes to slow down I quickly realized what the problem was - there was a sheet of ice on the road.

The closer I got to Southampton the heavier it snowed. It was like I was driving into the arctic or something. It took me about 15 minutes to get to the hospital from there and I was relieved to arrive safely. When I came home two hours later I learned that there never was much of a storm in East Hampton but you'd never believe it if you'd seen what was happening only 20 miles west.

It was the first snow and it was very pretty. But it was fleeting and gone by the time I got home. And I was glad not to have to drive in it any more. Last year on this day we had a major snow storm. I wouldn't mind an inch or two but I'll pass on an anniversary repeat, thank you!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Self-serve

I read another blog last week about the process of self-checkout which has become popular at so many chain stores lately. I've seen it in the WalMart near my daughter's house and recently CVS put it in right here in East Hampton (imagine that!). Normally I prefer a face to deal with and steer clear of these impersonal contraptions, but when I go to BJ's in Riverhead I have been known to head to the left to do self-checkout. If I'm lucky enough to be there early in the day when the regular lines are tolerable I stick to those, but when it's busy and the wait is long, I do it myself to save time.

Recently I was in this position - the store was incredibly busy and the lines at all the regular checkers were so long. I glanced over at self-check and there were only a couple people over there so I positioned myself behind a gentleman who was checking only a few items and it looked to be the quickest potential exit.

As luck would have it I chose the wrong line. This gentleman had only a few things but one was a puffy, pillow-like stuffed animal (a Christmas gift no doubt) that he simply could not get the machine to accept. It scanned the price just fine, but when it put it on the conveyor belt it wasn't heavy enough to register and the voice from the machine would simply delete the item. He tried at least fifteen times. Over and over again he scanned the item and listened to the machine as it quickly let him know it was not going to accept this sale. By the time he was finally assisted and managed to get his item scanned and accepted, the other lines had emptied and I knew I had chosen poorly.

Now it was my turn and I quickly scanned item after item, sending them down the conveyor and trying to move along so the people standing in line behind me would not be any further annoyed. Things were going well until I got to the cheese with no bar code. I turned it over and over and ...nothing. I pushed the button for help and continued scanning the other items. gentleman arrived to see what the problem was and I explained and he disappeared with my cheese. I completed my scanning, swiped my credit card, took the receipt and then he re-appeared stating "OK - I have you all set here" and tried to hand me the cheese. "Thanks" I said "but I don't need it now" and I rolled the cart to the door.

Next time if I can't get there early enough I think I'll skip BJ's...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Grandkids

Last week I had two occasions to enjoy grandchildren. First we took the two older boys out for dinner so we could drive around and look at Christmas lights - the kind of thing parents often don't have the time to do. The boys are ages 8 and 5 and we had fun driving to Southampton, singing every Christmas song we could think of along the way. We drove them down Southampton Main Street and then Jobs Lane and gasped at the beautiful decorations along the way.

We gave them a number of options on where they wanted to eat and naturally we ended up at McDonald's. Not my first choice, but this wasn't about me and try as I might I couldn't convince them to choose a nice restaurant. Anyway, we ate our dinner and then drove them home, first stopping at Carvel for ice cream (total Grandparent spoiling here) and then through Sag Harbor to see the lights there. It was a fun night.

A few days later I had the youngest of the three boys at my house for a few hours while his mother got her hair cut. He's just three, which is one of my favorite ages, and although his mother said he wouldn't be needing a nap, he was only here a short time when he totally nodded off while I was reading him a book. I lay him down gently and covered him with a blanket and watched him for awhile while he slept.

Is there anything as beautiful as a sleeping child? Those faces of innocence with peaceful expressions that just melt my heart. Still years away from the worry that keeps us tossing and turning in our own sleep, and totally content to be on a sofa with a blanket, he was the very picture of happiness.

I'm not sure there's anything as satisfying in the world as spending time with your grandchildren. I'm so glad I've lived long enough to experience it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pedi-cure

So I finally went to see a podiatrist last week. I've been putting it off for a long time now, knowing it was inevitable when my usual cures didn't work.

For years I've had problems with my feet. If I stand or walk for any length of time I pay a price for is later in the day when I experience a lot of pain on standing and walking. I've dealt with it pretty much in silence because I hate to complain and I figured it was just a passing thing so no big deal. My mother had foot issues which resulted in major surgery when she was younger than I am now. So I've tried to baby mine and keep them healthy - perhaps delaying the inevitable.

According to the doctor this is more heredity than useage, so it is what it is. I have what he described as "huge" bone spurs on both heels and serious plantar fasciitis. I was told to rest, take anti-inflammatory drugs, and wear inserts in my heels. We are taking a "conservative approach" which is fine with me. I'm hoping for the best.

Most of all though, I feel vindicated. Now my husband, who is the person who's heard most of my complaining over these past months, surely knows I'm not a wimp and there was good reason for my moaning and groaning. Unfortunately, vindication doesn't take away the pain...but on the upside - it isn't fatal!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Freezer space

At this time of the year, as well as others, I find myself longing for better freezer space. I have a normal-sized fridge with a normal-sized freezer section on the bottom and it's just not enough.

When I was young I loved it when my grandmother had to go into her freezer for something. She had an old-fashioned chest freezer that she kept on her porch and it was always full of stuff. When she opened the top it was like standing over a cauldron with all the frost rolling around obscuring everything inside. It would take fifteen seconds or so just to clear the air enough so she could spot what it was she was seeking. For a young child who had to stand on tip-toes to look inside it was awesome, filled with wrapped packages of meat and frozen baked goods she had put up for later.

My mother didn't have a chest freezer but at some point when the regular fridge was replaced upstairs she took the old one and put it in the basement so she had an extra freezer for overflow. For any holiday preparation there would be multiple trips up and down those cellar stairs to grab pies from the fridge or cookies from the freezer.

Since my own basement is difficult to access we've never been able to save an old refrigerator or buy an extra freezer, but its a dream of mine to have one. Right now, when the space is full of Christmas cookies and so tight its hard to open and close, I'm very envious of anyone who has one. With so many hungry people in the world, it seems a silly thing to wish for. How lucky are we to even need one? But it would be a nice luxury.

Maybe in my next life.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The attic

Yesterday I talked about the attic and how my mother would hide all the Christmas gifts there before the holiday. Thinking about the attic brought back lots of memories and I thought about it on and off all through the day.

I grew up in a big Victorian house - not a fancy one with lots of gingerbread and ornate shingles, but a working-class house that was common during the Victorian era, with a front porch and pretty turret. There's something about those houses that is just so grand - they have a real grace about them, no matter how ornate of how simple they happen to be. They look regal, which is, I guess, the whole idea.

Anyway, this house has a huge, full-height attic which was a joy to play in when we were kids. It was a great source of storage in older homes where closets were pretty much non-existent, but the narrow, treacherous staircase made it hard to put things up there. Despite that fact, it was full of treasures.

The house was built by my great-grandparents when they were married in the early 1890s. Since it was passed down through the generations that attic had never been completely emptied, which also made it a bit of a time capsule. There were old trunks full of fancy clothes, photos of relatives from another era, and the things of everyday life that were no longer necessary, like sleigh bells for buggies and big spinning wheels. We could spend hours up there pulling things our of those trunks and playing with all sorts of wonderful stuff. There were even eaves which were stuffed with things like old fishing poles. It was a world of wonder for children, much of which we destroyed over the years. It makes me sad to think about some of the things that were lost to history in the process of play, but then those memories are wonderful.

It was one of the great disappointments of my life to move into this house of mine where there was no attic staircase, but rather a rickety, pull-down, fold-up stairway that made the attic pretty hard to access. To me, an attic is a vital part of a house and when there isn't one, there's something missing.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Kicking back

This is my last easy weekend for awhile and I plan to enjoy it. The rest of the decorating must be done and I have to complete the menu planning for the next few weeks, but we have no evening plans and I look forward to sitting in front of the fireplace and just chilling.

We're in the final countdown now. I'm calm and well organized and looking forward to the rest of the month. And I'm grateful for a quiet weekend to re-charge for the days to come. I see popcorn in my future tonight. And I'm nostalgically thinking about my days of Christmas past when I was young and it meant decorating the tree and my mother trying hard to keep it all together with no help from my father.

My own family may have been unique, I don't know, but my mother did it all when it came to Christmas. She bought the tree, decorated the house, baked, bought, and generally made Christmas the special time it was for us. My father was a bit of a scrooge and wasn't a big contributor to the merriment - the only thing I ever remember him doing was putting the lights on the tree. My brother and sisters and I did all the ornaments and Mom did the rest of the house. Mom loved Christmas. I can't even imagine how difficult it must have been to be married to someone as negative about it as my father was. But Mom was a champion and never allowed any of us to know it if she was discouraged or sad or lonely. She made our holidays special every year and I have so many wonderful memories.

Her one mistake was in buying gifts early and putting them in the attic. I still remember going up there with my brother a few weeks before Christmas one year and uncovering a doll my little sister wanted. Mom thought by covering them with blankets they were hidden but the older ones of us were too smart for that.

I miss Mom more at Christmas than at any other time of the year because she really is the one who taught us about things like love and generosity and compassion. And those are the real pillars of the holiday. I wish she was here this year to see how we all have picked up where she left off.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Volunteering

I volunteer for many organizations and events and have since I was young. It was something my mother instilled in me - the idea that you give back to your community because we are all responsible for making the world a better place. I find that some people would rather sit back and complain about a dirty floor than pick up a broom and sweep it. But that's not me.

For the past month I've been volunteering at the hospital for two hours a week. I get in my car at 7 in the morning and drive to Southampton, trade my winter coat for a volunteer smock, and walk the halls for the next two hours looking for people who need help finding their way around, getting coffee for family members waiting for loved ones, and distributing magazines to the various waiting rooms along the way. It's been a wonderful opportunity to give back to a place that gave so much to me in 2009 and I look for ways to assist the staff as a thank-you gift.
I've always said that the work I do with the local ambulance is the most fulfilling volunteer work because it's a way to touch lives in a very real way when people are the most vulnerable and grateful for that human connection. I think this work at the hospital is a close second. I see people every week who are scared, confused, stressed, and lonely. I can be a friendly face for someone who is especially in need of one.

It's a wonderful way to get out of yourself and help someone else. And when I drive home from Southanmpton every Tuesday morning my feet really, really hurt - but I feel really good about my morning's efforts.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Season's reason

Last Sunday was our annual "Service of Lessons and Carols" at church and it was wonderful. It set the tone for the month and was a perfect way to get December off and running.

This service is a traditional one which has been done every year in many places around the world. It involves twelve lessons, or scriptural readings beginning with the prophesy in Isaiah announcing the Savior's coming and ending with the birth of the baby Jesus. After each lessons is read, a piece of music is done. Choir, instrumental, or solo pieces are used to illustrate the lessons, including carols sung by the congregation.

This year the highlight for me was a soprano solo done by a member of the choir, "Sweet Little Jesus Boy", a beautiful spiritual which mourns the fact that this tiny baby came to save the world and we didn't know who he was. The soprano's voice soared over the congregation, an ethereal, gorgeous sound that brought me to tears with its glory. There are some things that simply defy description and this was one of them. I could have listened to it over and over again.

There are moments in life that are so special you wish you could bottle them up. I experienced one of them last Sunday at the Service of Lessons and Carols. For me, the holiday has already been made.



Sweet Little Jesus Boy

Thursday, December 9, 2010

16

I used to love the countdown to Christmas when I was a kid. You know, like on the evening news when the anchor would announce "Only 16 days left to Christmas!" - I suppose to wake up anyone who hadn't done their shopping yet.

I've known people who only shop on Christmas Eve. They love it. They go out and spend hours getting the gifts they need. Mind you, these people are all men. Since men pretty much only shop for their wives I suppose its not too difficult. Women on the other hand could never leave it all until Christmas Eve. Not only do they have too many gifts to buy, they also have a meal to plan for - maybe two. In fact, most women are home cooking Christmas Eve dinner, trying to squeeze it all in between church and getting the packages out under the tree. Ad maybe preparing something for tomorrow's meal as well. So, I would be willing to guess that 80% of the people in the malls on Christmas Eve are men. Or single women.

Most people wait until the first of December to start their shopping. I can't do that - I'm too uptight to wait that late and I need to know things are bought and wrapped and ready before I can do other things like bake cookies and entertain.

The most disappointing thing about Christmas for me every year is the fact that there simply are too many things to do and I can't do them all. One night there may be a Christmas concert, a party, and a movie. I know last Sunday I was sad that I couldn't go to a breakfast being put on at one church because I had to be in my own for early choir practice because we were doing our Christmas concert the same day. If only one of those things had been the next Sunday I could have done them both but alas, I had to be at rehearsal.

And thus the entire month goes by with more things to do than I have time for and every year I wish I could split myself in two and do more. Once a year we have all these opportunities and then when December is over, they're gone. And its a long winter.

Only 16 days left.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

One gift

I have only one gift left to buy. There are over 40 already bought and wrapped up in my bedroom and I haven't been able to clean behind the pile in months. It won't be pretty when I take them all away.

The one gift left is the one for the extended family exchange. I have my niece's name and I'm agonizing over what to get her. I am resisting the temptation to just go grab a nice sweater or something generic like that, not because there's anything wrong with sweaters but because I want to get something she really wants. I've been trying to come you with something "special". I like to shop for gifts that are personal and unique and I'm drawing a blank on it. What to buy, what to buy.

Soon I'm going to have to make a decision and get something. I don't know why I'm having such a hard time with this one, but I am. Probably because I remember what it was like to be her age and have small children and little money. I longed for things I couldn't afford. I guess I just want to get her something like that, something that will make her smile. Not just another sweater, but the one she's been longing for. I just haven't been able to figure out what she's been dreaming of.

I only have one gift left to buy. Maybe this week something will jump out at me while I'm out looking...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

One down

We are officially one week down in December now. At this point if I'm not organized I'll be helplessly behind the ball and I don't think I'll be able to recover in time. Thankfully I'm not!

I have most my cookies baked and in the freezer. Some are frozen as dough and those I leave to bake this weekend. Gifts are wrapped and waiting for my husband to put ribbons and tags on. The house is pretty much decorated, although I wish I'd done a better job of cleaning before I put some things out. This past weekend was a really busy one so things just were left undone.

I still need to plan out menus for the coming weeks. I may want to order hams - I love the taste and ease of honey-baked ones. I used to do turkey on Christmas day but its so close to Thanksgiving that I'm still eating leftovers from that so I don't do a turkey anymore. I also need to get in other supplies so I won't be running around at the last minute buying corn starch or sugar.

One week down - one to go before the real holiday begins. I rather like the way some countries spread out the celebrations for weeks. Boxing Day is a nice tradition. And in Norway each family home is visited by the other family members in turn. Desserts abound. It's a wonderful thing.

There are now fewer than twenty days to Christmas...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Southampton

I think I've mentioned before how much I enjoy the way the various communities decorate for the holidays. This past week I was delighted to be in Southampton Village after dark and see what they've been up to just west of us.

We went for a nice dinner with friends and had driven around Main Street to get to the restaurant. But when we left, my husband turned the car toward Jobs Lane and when we passed Agawam Park we gasped at the way the street was decked out. Many of the trees that lined the street were completely covered in white lights. It was like a fairyland with twinkling lights and we "oohed" and "aahed" all the way as we meandered toward Main Street. When we arrived at the light we gasped again as we realized that it wasn't just Jobs Lane that was decorated this way, but all of Main Street was similarly decked out. Huge elms lining the street were covered with white lights, wound carefully around the trunks and out along the branches. It was so beautiful!

I'm so happy we'd made the trip that night. Had we decided to head in another direction we may never have seen how lovely Southampton looks this month. It was well worth the trip and I think I will probably head in that direction at least once or twice more in the coming weeks. I have to figure out how to get the grand kids over there soon.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ready

Well the gifts are all wrapped, the house is (pretty much) decorated, and the cookies are beginning to fill the freezer so I'm feeling pretty good about the state of my holiday preparations this year. And every year I'm amazed at the amount of work that goes into getting ready for a couple days of celebration and excitement! It's not even as long as a nice vacation and yet we spend months preparing for it all. I actually start thinking about gift-buying when the sales start in January, so in reality it's nearly a year in anticipation of Christmas every year.

I still have to finish getting the Christmas cards out and I have dozens of cookies yet to bake, but all in all things are going well. I've often thought I'd like to offer a service shopping for others who aren't as organized as I, but I don't want to put any more pressure on myself because I enjoy being able to sit back and enjoy it all, knowing I'm ready for the big week.

This year my daughter's family will be joining us for Christmas and those are my favorite years now. There's something about having children in the house that makes it all worth any work that we put into it. I loved decorating the house when my kids were small because the sparkle in their eyes and the joy they exude as each ornament is taken from the box is so contagious. With the grandkids arriving it spurs us on to make the house as special as we can so we can see those looks of wonder when they walk in the door. Christmas is a great time of year for everyone but when there are children in the house it's incredibly special.

This may be only the first week of the month but I'm already getting excited about what's to come.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Santa

Today is Santa parade day in East Hampton and its going to be a crazy morning. Because Sunday is our annual Service of Lessons and Carols at church, we have a rehearsal from 9 to 11 and the parade kicks off at 10. Talk about a clash of cultures!

Last year we had the same problem and rehearsal was difficult since Main Street passes in front of the church - we had to compete with loud speakers blasting "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" as floats and marchers walked by. I have nothing against Santa Claus - in fact I'm quite fond of him - but there's something interesting about trying to sing the sacred hymns of Christmas while crowds are cheering for Santa right outside the door. Its nothing new seeing the sacred and secular parts of Christmas collide, but its so blatant in this case it makes me smile.

I've never been a big fan of the Santa parade simply because its often very cold and its always very commercial. But I've stood to watch many of them with my children over the years, not to mention marching in them myself when I was in the high school band. But if I have a choice, I have no problem choosing the opportunity to sing the sacred music of Christmas over watching Santa ride down Main Street on a float. It's a matter of the reason for the season.

Friday, December 3, 2010

December

How did it get to be December, by the way? Last I was aware I was preparing Thanksgiving dinner and suddenly, here we are surrounded by Christmas lights and menorahs and all things December! Wow - time is flying by.

The weeks in December always go quickly and it seems as though as much as we may try we can't get the clock to slow down at all. It's that way with all the special, magical moments we live, the ones we just wish we could bottle up and keep forever. I'm remembering weddings and births, holidays and vacations - all times we wish would last and last. And then there are the times which go so slowly we think we'll shrivel up and die from the wait. In this category I put medical tests, waits in doctor's offices, recovery from surgery and other such things, and the wait for a loved one to walk in the door.

Wouldn't it be great if we could take the time from the things that we aren't enjoying and apply it to the times we want to extend? If only I could take that twenty minutes in the MRI machine and apply it to the next family dinner. Or put that wasted hour waiting for a doctor onto the next busy December day. What a great thing that would be! Sort of a "time exchange" - evenly trading hour for hour but making sure they are where we want them to be.

I think I may be on to something here. Haven't we all dreamed of having a time machine so we could re-visit the best times of our lives? This would work equally well. Sounds like the plot of a movie...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Decor

I'm fascinated with the way people choose to decorate for the holidays.

When we were in PA my son-in-law drove us by a house to see if the usual decorations were up yet. They were and it was really something. The entire roof was covered with lights, creating a sort of checkerboard design. The yard was ablaze with lighted vignettes: deer, a creche, skaters on a pond, polar bears - every imaginable sort of thing filling the yard of this otherwise non-descript little ranch house. Amazing!

We also saw the outdoor displays at Longwood Gardens, which were a bit more tastefully restrained. And as we returned to East Hampton we could see that the village trees were nearly all in place to be lighted later in the week. That's always one of my favorite things. Tuesday night we drove to Southampton Village for dinner and Main Street there is a winter wonderland. They've wrapped all the large trees with white lights and it is gorgeous!

The one thing I have not been able to get my head around are those inflated decorations of all sorts: santas, snowmen, menorahs - they come in all sorts of shapes and types and each is as tacky and odd as the next. In my opinion we can do better - in fact nothing at all would be better. Sorry if I'm insulting anyone here, but I just don't get them. Especially ones that have movement, waving and bouncing around. I just find them weird.

I love the simple decorations. I like small lights - no flashing ones please - and not too much all in one place! I think its always best to err on the side of "less is more". But I also would rather see a whole lawn full of lights than nothing at all! 'Tis the season - let's celebrate!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Longwood Gardens

While we were in Pennsylvania last weekend we made our (almost) annual visit to Longwood Gardens to see the Christmas display. Since my daughter lives within a few miles of Longwood we visit there often and it is a spectacular place to see at any time of the year. In the spring there are thousands of bulbs in bloom, in the summer the roses and other warm weather blossoms are in abundance, and in the autumn we love the crysanthamums. But there is no question that the most spectacular time of year is the holidays.

We started in the conservatory and walked through the greenhouses, past the thousands of poinsettia, cyclamen, and tree displays. There were wonderful decorating ideas in every direction and the Victorian theme was evident. One huge evergreen was decorated with blue hydrangeas, rosy ribbons, and huge cream-colored ornaments. There were large balls of white blossoms hanging from the glass ceilings and the paths were lined with Christmas plants of every type. It was breathtaking.

When we emerged from the wonderland that was indoors, we entered the amazing night time display as the sun had set while we were wandering inside. Now the acres of grounds were ablaze with lights, trees wrapped in azure and purple, bushes in red and gold, and some items completely transformed in the dark by the lights that had been artfully arranged. We worked our way over to the decorative fountains and waited for the show which takes place every 10 minutes. This year it was set to the music of the Nutcracker Suite and the waters danced and exploded to the strings and horns. It was five minutes of magic.

Everyone should visit Longwood Gardens once in their lifetime. If you can stop on your way through Pennsylvania some time, do it. And if it happens to be around the holidays, make sure you don't miss it after dark. It will surely get you into the mood!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Moments

Thirty-six years ago I experienced one of the most important days of my life. I married the man I've been with ever since.

Now there are many people who marry and stay together for their entire adult lives so I know there's nothing special about that. But what I think makes it special is I'm still happy to be with him. I've known way too many couples who grow apart over the years and I think life has a way of driving wedges between relationships pretty easily. So many things can derail us and there are so many outside pressures that make staying together - and enjoying it - nearly impossible. Life was simpler in my great-grandparents day, that's for sure! But I'm glad to know that it's still possible, with commitment and grit, to make a relationship that will last a lifetime.

For me, it isn't just about two people who fell in love. It was, and is, about a family that started that beautiful autumn day back in 1974. It's about the amazing children that came along, one, two, three and then four of them, each one making our hearts fuller and our souls more connected. We worked hard to nurture our relationship, rejecting temptations as they presented themselves and protecting it at all costs. It hasn't always been easy, but it has been worthwhile and I've never regretted a single day. (Well, maybe one, but that's a blog for another time!)

I'm not sure I'm as important to my husband as he is to me, and I don't mean that in a negative way - it's just that he's always been pretty independent whereas I'm not a loner and I crave companionship. And he's not terribly demonstrative either so who's to know these things? But it doesn't matter. I'm content and determined to stay this way, whatever life may throw at us from here on out. I actually think some of the toughest years are yet to come. But I think we can withstand anything now. After all, we're still here!

Happy Anniversary to my husband! I hope I've made you as happy as you've made me.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Homeward bound

We were home for Thanksgiving this year but we went to Pennsylvania the following day to spend some time with my daughter and her family. We haven't seen the grandkids there in over a month and they won't be coming up to East Hampton until Christmas so it seemed a good time to grab a couple days vacation and see the little ones.

Coming home from a few days with the kids is always so melancholy. I miss them the minute we drive out of their driveway but I'm also anxious to get home to the schedule I have to follow. Tomorrow morning is my day to volunteer at the hospital and its also my anniversary so we'll be doing something to celebrate. The rest of the week is busy with all the usual holiday stuff - choir rehearsals and banquets and even a funeral. Part of me looks forward to getting home and getting things done - but part wants to stay right there with those kids, reading to them at bedtime and cuddling on the couch with them in their pjs.

Someone once said their favorite place in the world was the airport because they were always happy to be there: happy to be going away on a vacation and happy to be coming home from one. I feel that way about my trips to and from Pennsylvania. I love being there and I love coming home. Life is full of such paradoxes, isn't it?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Big week

This week really starts the busy time and I'm feeling a bit crazed already. The first weekend in December is going to be overcrowded with activities including dinners, rehearsals, and card writing. I love the holidays, but....

My wedding anniversary is Tuesday and every year I feel a bit guilty about what I did to my family, getting married on Thanksgiving weekend 36 years ago. At the time I thought nothing of it - after all, it was a great time of the year so why not have a wedding. right? I was young and care-free and very naive. Now I know that I put a real burden on all those that had to travel on that busy weekend as well as my mother who had lots of other things to worry about at that time of the year. Not only did she do Thanksgiving dinner for a large extended family, she had my wedding two days later, a mother-in-law who went into a nursing home the day after the wedding, and a big family to shop for with Christmas right around the corner.

If I had it to do over again I would choose a quiet time of the year - maybe October or April - and plan my wedding when it would be the only thing happening. But I'm thinking that my mother was too loving to suggest such a thing then. And despite what was going on in her life, she did everything she could to make my wedding special, which it was. I hope my daughter who got married two days after Christmas 13 years ago can say the same thing!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Royalty

Thirty years ago I set my alarm clock for some ungodly hour of the morning and got out of bed to watch TV. I wanted to see every detail of the royal wedding - Price Charles and Princess Diana. I'm already looking forward to the one that will take place this spring.

OK, I admit it. I love the whole royalty thing. I don't know why exactly, but I do. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that my ancestors were from England and I often think about British history as my own. Or maybe its because I'm fascinated by all the pomp and circumstance that goes along with all bit state occasions and I watch Presidential Inaugurations with nearly the same enthusiasm as I do royal weddings. Or, most probably, like all little girls I grew up thinking about how wonderful life would be if I were a princess.

When I was in high school I read all the articles about Prince Charles, who was then a bachelor, and dreamed that perhaps I might be the one to win him over if only I could find a way to meet him. I was already happily married when he found Diana so I was not jealous, but I watched with fascination over the years as she blossomed into a beautiful member of the royal family. I was envious of her life and all that went with her station and I admired her for the way she carried herself.

My son was born within a month of Prince William and I made sure to paste a magazine article about it in the baby book under the "current events" section. My life was again a reflection of hers and I wished I had the ability to buy the beautiful smocked rompers and pleated shirts that she dressed her little one in.

There is a wonderful fascination with royalty - especially British royalty - in this country. I rather think it has to do with our connections to the mother country but maybe its simpler than that. Maybe we just like to escape into that little fantasy world once in awhile. Come spring I'll be watching every minute of that royal wedding, from the moment they leave Buckingham Palace in a grand carriage to the waves from the balcony as they couple greets their subjects as husband and wife. And thanks to the wonder of modern technology, I won't even have to wake up so early to do it. I'll be recording it all on our DVR where I can see the best parts over and over again...

Day after

Some of the thoughts I had throughout the day yesterday while preparing for Thanksgiving dinner:

I wonder if our mothers know how they are represented at our table? My son is making the cream puffs that my mother always made and I made my mother-in-law's chocolate angel food cake. As I was slathering on the chocolate whipped cream frosting I thought about her and all the years she made those for our Thanksgiving table, as well as for so many other occasions. My husband's favorite cake which I never made until she was gone because I wanted it to be her specialty.

I wonder how our troops are doing overseas? And how are their families coping stateside? I hope they know we're thinking about them.

I wonder if my husband knows how much I love spending holidays with him?

I wonder if my kids know how much I'm missing them?

I wonder if anyone else remembers the year my mother's oven broke down but she didn't realize it until the turkey didn't cook?

I wonder if anyone else remembers how my Grandmother Strong used to hide from the camera on Thanksgiving? In the old home movies she would duck under the table as the camera panned in her direction.

I wonder if anyone else remembers Thanksgiving 1963 when we drove to Buffalo to have dinner with my aunt and uncle because Kennedy had been assassinated and there would be an extra day off school and work, giving us time to make the long trip?

I wonder if anyone remembers the first year my mother's parents were with us for Thanksgiving after they moved to East Hampton from Buffalo?

I wonder if my grandchildren will have as many wonderful memories of me as I do of my grandparents?

Thanksgiving, like ever holiday, is full of memories. I wonder how many people share mine?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving thanks

This is such a nostalgic day for me and I think because our crowd is so small this year I'm especially remembering the old days when the house was a hub of activity and excitement and there were lots of people everywhere.

Regardless of who's here or what our plans are, Thanksgiving makes me contemplate all that I have to be thankful for. Packing shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child a couple weeks ago made me even more appreciative for all that I have. As I bought small stuffed animals and crayons with paper for those small gift boxes, I imagined the children who would be receiving them and the joy those things would bring them. And then I thought about my own grandchildren and how lucky they were to have so much. We are all blessed beyond belief in this country!

I'm thankful for my wonderful family, that I love without measure. I'm thankful for a husband that I love more now than I did the day I married him. I'm thankful for amazing friends who support me and helped me get through some difficult times in the past three years. And I'm thankful for a God who loves me. I'm thankful for my life-every special day of it!

I'm thankful today to be right here, in East Hampton, where I can walk outside and enjoy the beauty of the countryside, the blue sky, and the open sea. And I'm thankful that I have so much to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Prep day

Today is the last day to work on the meal for tomorrow. When my kids were young I'd use today to have them make come cute place cards or other table decorations for the dinner table on Thanksgiving. I loved doing that kind of thing with them and I think I would have made a good elementary school teacher, but unfortunately when I was in high school I wasn't all that crazy about kids. It took having my own to make me really appreciate them! Now I think I would have loved spending my days with kindergarten or first, second and third graders. No matter though - I have a good supply of grandchildren to keep me entertained!

I hope I have all the food ready and all the ingredients in place for the big day. If not, I see that the local grocery stores are now open in the morning! Now that's something that never would have happened twenty years ago!

I'll be up early to get the turkey in the oven. The the day will be spent baking and relaxing around the house. I'll miss the family - most are away - but I'm grateful to have a husband to keep me company and look forward to the meal when other family members gather.

This really is my favorite time of the year.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The other side

Today is my second morning volunteering at Southampton Hospital as an "Ambassador". I can't tell you have wonderful it is to be on the other side of things there!

It will be two years in January that I started my adventures there. It began simply enough with an annual mammogram. For the next year I would spend so many hours at the hospital, having tests, surgery, recovering, and waiting, waiting, waiting. I spent time in each of the waiting rooms on the first floor, just as I had spent time in the waiting rooms on other floors at other times in my life: when first my father and then my husband were in ICU; when grandparents were in rooms that my young children could not enter so I took turns sitting with them while my husband and I visited; waiting for a look at a new niece or nephew, and more recently grandchildren. I've spent time in all those waiting areas. But in 2009 it was all the main floor - radiology, surgery, main entrance - I've become very familiar with all of them.

But now, I'm returning as a warrior to the site of my battle. I waltz around the first floor feeling like a victor and gladly watch for others I can assist in their travels. I take them magazines, offer them a friendly face and smile, and hopefully help them maneuver through the maze of medical tests and stressful moments. I find myself looking forward to the morning despite the drive and the early hour. I'm content and at peace when I walk in the door - no butterflies and no apprehension.

I can't wait to get there.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Blue moon and preparations

Last night the moon was beautiful and the sky haunting. A full, bright circle hung high in the sky and the clouds were dark and gray, surrounding it with motion but not covering it - just adding an eerie glow to the night, like something out of a horror movie. But it wasn't frightening, it was beautiful. With the temperature dropping and the night so bright it was a typical November evening.

If one is not well prepare for thanksgiving they may be in trouble. I have my turkey thawing in the refrigerator and the cranberry relish made. I'll get the linens out today and make sure my lists are complete and I haven't forgotten anything. For us it's a small crowd this year. Since we get together with my extended family every Sunday and the number generally falls between 16 and 22, we're used to a big crowd. We won't have more than 9 on Thursday so that's a small group for this house. Three of my children will be out of town with their other families so I'm glad that my brother and his crew will join us, along with my son and his girlfriend. It will be a little sad with no little ones here - all the grand kids will be gone - and of course I'll miss my other children but I've gotten pretty used to sharing them all with their spouses' families.

The temperature outside is finally beginning to feel like the holidays. Up 'til now it's been warm enough to feel like September, but there's no doubt at this point that the holidays are upon us. Driving through the village last night at 7:30, looking at that beautiful blue moon casting its milky glow on all the open yards and rooftops along the way, was like entering into the season of joy. Life is good and at no time are we more aware of our blessings than this week - and the month to follow. It's a great time to be alive, and grateful.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Wrapping

I think my Christmas shopping is just about done now and I'm breathing easy as the stress of preparing for the holidays has become less heavy already. There just are not enough weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas to accomplish everything so having that chore out of the way is huge.

Not that I consider shopping for loved ones a chore - I really love it. But there're just so many of them to shop for now that it's becoming a bit harder. I remember the first Christmases when I was old enough to work summers and save some money. I loved actually having money to spend on gifts and I shopped carefully for the members of my family. Once I had all 7 or 8 gifts, I set to my favorite part of the job, which was wrapping. I even remember some of the paper I used in those first couple years when I carefully shopped for unique ones and bought enough of the same to wrap everything I had. Then I carefully chose some coordinating ribbon and started the fun part. I wrapped each gift and then found a unique way to accessorize each one. For some I'd make paper fans from the extra wrapping, or maybe fashion it into paper flowers. Everything was coordinated and each was special and different. I loved being a little artistic and designing the wrapping to be as much a part of the gift as what was inside the box.

I remember those years with longing because if I could I'd still be spending time doing special wrapping for every gift. But now that my list has grown to about forty there's just no way I have the time to spend on every one. I wrap as quickly as I can, rarely trimming the ends carefully the way I used to, and using rolls of wrap that I was able to find on sale the year before, not ones I chose for their unique look and the potential for special design aspects. There are no more paper flowers or fans but hopefully there'll be time to slap some pre-made bows on them before they're put under the tree. I'd really love to work at a gift store, just wrapping gifts for customers. I'd have all kinds of fancy ribbons and papers at my disposal and the time to spend on each one. That would be heaven!

I feel guilty every year because I can't spend the time I'd like to on fancy and beautiful wrapping jobs, but I think I'm the only one who cares.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Afternoon light

One of the things I love about the afternoons now is the light. Since the time change I've noticed a wonderful diffused light at about 4pm, throwing long shadows across the lawn and open fields. The side of the house and trees facing west are still ablaze with bright light while the opposite sides are settling into gray. The front windows are bright - the back ones are looking like dusk has arrived. It's a beautiful time of the day and I love sitting in the living room with the laptop, watching the shadows of leafy branches dance along the walls facing the windows. My walls are deep red so the shadows stand in stark contrast to the light streaming in and changing the shade of such saturated color.

In no time at all the days will be their shortest and the trend will reverse again. Each month we'll notice the daylight lingering a little longer and we'll be looking forward to Spring. But I don't wish the winter away, I welcome it. I love seeing the change of scenery and like the way it even makes the colors in my house reflect the season. No need to paint, just wait a few months and the walls will take on a whole new hue.

The afternoon light is beautiful in the fall and it's leading us on to winter's darkness.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Legacies

I often think about my parents' legacies - not things like money or possessions but physical attributes and medical issues. I seem to have inherited the worst of both!

All the years when I was growing up and through most of my adult life I assumed I had all my father's physical attributes: very wide feet that wouldn't fit in most shoes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, thick, unshapely legs - the list is endless. However, in the past few years I've discovered my mother's genes are equally strong. I'm now dealing with her bad feet (structural problems abound and pain is a constant companion) and her gastric reflux (she lived with the Tums by her bed and now I'm being treated for my constant stomach problems). All of which brings me to something I used to think about when I was having my own children: wouldn't it be nice of we could choose the things our children would inherit from their parents, like going through a menu and checking off the choices?

When I was pregnant with my first child I wanted her to have her father's sense of humor, his body type, and his hair. From me I thought maybe my eyes, my teeth (he needed braces but I never did) and my hands. There were many things I did NOT wish upon her, but fortunately I suppose, we cannot choose and she came out with a nice combination of both of us, good and bad, and she's perfect just the way she is. No doubt if we could choose we'd totally screw up the next generation and rather than the perfect beings we'd want to produce they'd end up looking weird.

But isn't it a nice idea anyway? Sorry Mom, but I'm just not enjoying your feet. Your smile, however, I'm happy to have!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The train

I've lived within a stone's throw of the railroad tracks my entire life. Even when I was first married we lived in my husband's grandparents' old house in Amagansett, right near the tracks. In our next place, an apartment, we were on the other side but within sight of the passing train. Then we moved here which is right next to the house I grew up in and only one house from the tracks so the railroad has been a constant in my life.

When we rented out the bedrooms in the summers (we had moved into our own home and we moved downstairs with our two little girls and used the bedrooms for income) occasionally someone would call about prices and then ask the question "Is it near the railroad tracks?" For some people this was a problem. I never really understood that because its not like being under the elevated tracks in NYC - the trains are few and far between and the house doesn't shake or rattle when it passes. In fact, I find the sound of it rather soothing. In the summer when the windows are opened and the wind is right it can be loud enough to drown out the television, but that's rare and fleeting, and we can't even see it from the backyard anymore now that the foliage has grown so tall and thick.

For my children, and now my grandchildren, the sound of the train whistle was cause for excitement and often meant a quick trip to the front yard with an adult to watch as it rumbled across the overpass. There's a certain romance to trains and its not lost on any of us. I find comfort in the routine sound of it as it approaches, passes, and moves on the the next stop.

I actually enjoy living near the train. As long as they don't increase the schedule...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Memories

Since today was my mother's birthday it seems a good time to share a memory. I honestly can't remember whether I've already shared this with my readers and I apologize if I have, but in going back over posts I can't find anything that looks like it so here goes:

My parents had a boxer puppy before they had any children so I grew to the age of about eight with this big dog as part of the family. My brother, who is older than I, would have been about 11 when we lost Duke so he and I were the most saddened by his death. My younger sisters would hardly remember him I think.

Anyway, Duke had been gone about 6 months when my grandmother came by the house one day and picked me up to "go for a ride". We ended up at an animal shelter where my grandmother disappeared inside and returned shortly with a lively young boxer on tow. Or perhaps it was the other way around - this was a pretty active animal. I was beyond excited, but not nearly as much as my brother was when we got home with this adolescent canine. I remember him grabbing that leash and running all around the yard with the dog, laughing and shouting as my mother and grandmother looked on with smiles.

Suddenly my father pulled in the driveway. He quickly took in the scene and climbed out of the car with a scowl. "It's going back tomorrow!" he declared and my brother and I were crestfallen. But then my grandmother - his mother - pulled herself up to her full 5 feet 3 inches, scowled right back at him and said "Oh no it's not! It's staying!" and for the first time in my life I saw my father cower slightly, back off, and storm into the house.

When we took the dog inside my mother went to a high cabinet and pulled out a new dog dish and a few cans of food and then disappeared into the basement, emerging with a dog bed. She set up a corner of the back room for the dog that we had already named "Dutchess" and we watched as my father sulked in the living room, knowing that he was defeated.

My mother and my grandmothers were my heroes. They were constrained by the times to fill their "roles" as they knew them. But when it came to us, they were mother bears protecting their cubs and that day I knew that as much as they were able, they would always be our advocates.

Happy Birthday Mom - I hope you know that I remember!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Spellcheck

OK I'll admit it: I'm a terrible speller.

When we were kids we used to have "spelling bees" in our classes - they probably still do - and I always hated them. I just am not a person who remembers word construction well. I memorized all the words I needed to throughout my school years, but most of them have disappeared from my fragile memory. I do remember all the rules, like "i before e, except after c....." etc, and that assists me in doing a fairly god job of not looking completely illiterate when I write letters. But my biggest asset in life has been "spellcheck".

Before computers I lived with a dictionary close by. I had one in my home office and one at my work space. I referred to those dictionaries pretty regularly, not only to make sure of my spelling but to check word usage as well. I love words, and I love unusual, unique ones that you don't often hear or see in print. So I often use them when writing either for pleasure or business. I think they make things more interesting. And now, with the use of my computer, I can check both things with ease. All I need to do if click a button and all my misspellings are highlighted and correct spellings are offered. Sometimes it makes me smile because my spelling is so convoluted that the computer isn't even sure what I was trying for and gives me 6 or 7 alternatives, hoping at least one of them is the one I was looking for!

Even my blog comes with spellcheck and on the occasion I forget to use it I always find something wrong when I read it after its published. Often those are typos (because I'm an equally poor typist!) but they are also sometimes misspellings that even I can see aren't quite right. I then quickly go back to edit and correct whatever it is that I goofed on.

Computers are real lifesavers for people like me who aren't very good at it. Now - I'm going to spellcheck this piece so I can publish it without shame...