Welcome to my creative space, where I believe
words have power, we can change the world by sharing stories,
imagination is valuable, and that my voice will not be silenced.
I hope you will join me here, by reading my blog and books, joining me in workshops, contributing guest posts, and maybe even making a comment or two or more. Everyone is welcome! I look forward to hearing your stories.
There’s a reason this time of year holds so many festivals from all kinds of cultures and religions–and that those festivals often involve a tradition involving light.
In part of the world the days draw short. Before the world understood the relationship between the sun and the earth, people might have worried that the darkness would take over and the sun would never return. The world would fall into cold, a magical but chilling layer of white.
What better way to combat the darkness then to create festivals of light and gather around the hearths for warmth?
With the twinkle of light comes a sense of magic, of somehow crossing the line between reality and dreams.
We begin to enter the world of whimsy, where animals talk, faeries flit, and beauty comes in unexpected ways.
Despite the sadness of the season, I still love the magic and find comfort in the flicker of a candle and in the whimsy of a snowflake.
Do you find this season magical? What gives you comfort in the darkness and the cold?
Given the response I received on yesterday’s post “‘Tis the Season for Sadness” it seems I struck a chord, and that many people struggle through this season for a variety of reasons. Whether it’s the shortness of the days, the weather, the hormones, the overwhelming busy-ness, the commercialism, or whatever–many struggle at a time which is supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year” (that has always been one of my favorite songs of the season)
So what do we do about it? Do we just paint smiles on our faces, attach jingle bells to our clothes, and force ourselves to participate in the festive joy? Or is there a simpler answer, a way to enjoy the season and the time with family and friends without ignoring our own emotions or overwhelming ourselves with fake good cheer?
I have decided to take control of my emotions by giving myself permission . . .
. . . permission to feel the sadness that I should expect to feel on the anniversary of my Dad’s death.
. . . permission to say “No” to invitations that sound overwhelming or feel obligatory
. . . permission to give gifts because I want to and if I have a special idea, not out of obligation
. . . permission to enjoy the things I like about this season in quiet ways: the magical feeling of twinkle lights and holiday decorations; the taste of eggnog and the smell of cinnamon; candles burning and my winter village decorating my home; the promise of time off from the daily obligations of academia; the music–in small doses . . .
Yesterday Sarah opened her eight present for Hanukkah. We don’t give her eight gifts every year, but this year it felt right. Her gifts this year were (in no particular order): fuzzy pajamas, a Red Sox Champion t-shirt, a 1000 piece puzzle of candy, a gift card to a book store, DVD of Polar Express (which she wanted) and Holiday Inn, a pen/stylus combo to use for her Kindle, and this special decorate-it-yourself calendar.
When she opened this creative calendar she looked confused at first, until I told her that it was designed by her former art teacher and my good friend Jackie Haltom. She searched to find Jackie’s name, but sadly it was for the company Jackie works for and so she doesn’t get any real credit. The point is that Sarah was thrilled to have something so simple and creative that reminded her of someone she cares about. That’s pretty special.
Now, since my in-laws are Methodist, Sarah has grown up celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas. I never celebrated Christmas until I was in my twenties, living in Japan and then when I moved in with Nathan. However, I do believe in the magic of the Christmas season, and love the sense of possibility that it brings. So, when I realized that we would be celebrating in some way every year, I’ve tried to build that magic into the celebration.
We have a stuffed reindeer named Oliver (who existed before Sarah) who disappears every year a few days before Christmas to help Santa pull his sleigh. He has own sleigh bell and everything. He magically reappears every Christmas morning, no matter where we are. Santa also always knows where to bring Sarah’s presents, since she is very rarely at our house Christmas morning. Last year, when Sarah wanted a bike for Christmas and we were in Hawaii, Santa took a picture of the bike in front of our house and left that under the tree with a note.
Oliver just put his jingle bell on and is ready to help Santa.
I love that my ten-year-old daughter still believes in Santa, or at least she’s willing to believe in believing which is just as good.
This year, however, when I asked her what she planned to ask Santa for Christmas she gave me the best answer ever. “I don’t want anything. I have everything I need.”
I suggested that maybe she ask Santa to do something for someone else. She said, “I’d like Santa to send a special gift to Kamea” (Her best friend from Colorado whom she misses very much). Santa needs to get on that.
The whole point of this story is that this time of year, to me, is about recognizing the relationships we have and the moments that make life special:
the people (like Jackie and Kamea) who’ve been part of our journey;
the moments when we choose to believe in magic
the smiles that will come as we put our puzzle together on the next snowy day
The cozy dreams tucked away behind windows filled with warmth.
I don’t have to feel lonely this season, because I have the people I love near me and friends to write letters to. I don’t have to feel the pressure of jollity because I can choose when I go and when I don’t. I don’t have to feel let down if I don’t have any expectations. I don’t have to lose the magic if I hold the magic inside me.
I’m okay with that.
I wish you all a holiday season filled with simple joys and peace. And, not that you need it, I “give you permission” to take care of yourself and let the rest go.
Every year, as the hustle and bustle surrounding Christmas grows, as twinkle lights appear in trees and window, as festive songs play for far too long on radio stations determined to jump straight from Halloween to the end of December . . . every year I feel myself fall deeper into a well of sadness that I cannot really define.
This year the sadness comes from deep inside. I approach the upcoming anniversary of my father’s death with a sense of guilt. I never really said goodbye, and I blame myself for that. And then I went on living . . . I know, I’m supposed to go on living, but I still feel a sense of intense loss that he is not here to share with me the incredible journey I’ve been on for the past year. I miss him and wake up in the wee hours of the morning wondering what he would think.
Ben Kramer, May 22, 1933-December 19, 2012
But even that is not the root of my sadness. Perhaps it adds depth to the feeling this year, but it is a feeling that comes every year at this time. ‘Tis the season when I feel the most disconnect–as if somehow I am always on the outside looking in at the festive swirl around me. Sometimes, though, I become aware that I am not really alone in this. A note of desperation underlies the festivities–joy tainted by a film of discord–happiness forced because people are supposed to be happy, not because of any natural feeling.
Outside looking in . . .
‘Tis the season when I find myself wandering through the passages of memory, as the spirits of “what if?” whisper messages in my brain. I reflect on friendships past, or friendships lost, or friendships that never grew to fruition. I lose myself in the quicksand of unfulfilled dreams and then become mired in the fears that hold me back. My fears and doubts overwhelm as I drift between the urge to overindulge in the festivities that surround me, and the desire to hide away with a blanket and a good book.
‘Tis the season where my emotions lie near the surface and yet I hide them behind smiles and bright colors. ‘Tis the season where I often wear red.
Getting ready for the first night. My friend the turkey wanted to hold up the menorah.
While a lesser holiday in terms of Judaism (and not my favorite) I always love lighting the candles and using that time to reflect on . . . well . . . life. Of course, this is a minor festival about rededicating the Temple after it was destroyed, that has now grown to epic proportions as it competes against the never-ending–all-consuming holiday known as Christmas. But for me it has never really been about the presents (although I like getting thoughtful ones) or about consuming large quantities of fried latkes (they are best with applesauce). No, for me it has always been about that quiet moment after the candles are lit, when my mother would wind up the music box on one of our menorahs and we listened to “Ma’oz Tzur” and watched the flames. For me it is a moment to reflect on what it means to be strong in the face of a world that seems to always want to keep you down, and to stand true to yourself even when everyone else says you are wrong.
Over the years, Thanksgiving in my family became mostly about the food. Still I always loved the fact that we were together as a family, without the obligations of spending the day in temple (like on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) or fasting. I loved watching the parade on tv with my dad, before the commercials and commentary took over. I loved my mother’s pie and stuffing and sweet potatoes. I liked playing board games with my family or simply lying around watching movies and reading books. Once Sarah was born, I wanted to begin having some traditions of our own. I held my first (slightly terrifying) Thanksgiving meal with my family at my house and asked them each to write a page for a Thanksgiving memory book. I planned on doing that every year, but life moved swiftly after that, and each Thanksgiving has had a different twist. Some years we managed to get together as a family; some years Nathan, Sarah and I volunteered to help serve at a community Thanksgiving; some years we gathered with friends who became family and other Thanksgiving orphans, some years we were alone. Each year I try to find a way to make the day special, to think about what being thankful truly means.
This year the two holidays meet and have turned into Thanksgivukkah.
A few days later, I was listening to “Boston Public Radio” on NPR and heard a brief discussion with Rabbi Moshe Waldoks about what he thinks of Thanksgivukkah. He pointed out that Hannukah is not supposed to be just about the miracle of the oil. “I wish it would happen every year,” he said. “I think it takes Hannukah out of the the Christmas sphere . . .” He goes on to explain how, in order to re-dedicate the temple (Hannukah means dedication) they had to re-celebrate the Tabernacle, which is a harvest festival. For the full discussion, visit the BPR New Quiz: Thanksgivukkah Edition.
I realized as we began to plan for our Thanksgivukkah festivities that there is another reason why I’m embracing this so fully. This will be the first Thanksgiving without my Dad. The last two years have been bittersweet celebrations as we watched this fun-loving, intelligent man slide deeper into the world of memory and loss. In some ways, this year will be bittersweet as well, as we all still mourn and we all miss him so very much.
An image from Thanksgiving 2011 taken by my brother. The essence of regret. For more beautiful but sad moments from that day click on the image.
But that is all the more reason to make this holiday special; to celebrate our blessings; to reflect on how we face our ordeals; to watch the flames and rededicate ourselves to a life working toward good, positive things.
The Thanksgivukkah preparations have begun, and for that I am grateful.
Sarah put her turkey in a yarmulke
Now the gifts appear.
Brine the turkey in Manishewitz of course.
Sarah seemed to enjoy creating turkey decorations. But asking her to clean up is a whole other story.
Turkey turning purple
It’s all in there.
Menorah decorated with turkey. I can’t wait to light the candles.
The brine before the turkey
The turkey heads into the brine
Getting ready for the first night. My friend the turkey wanted to hold up the menorah.
Happy Thanksgivukkah everyone! I wish everyone, even those not celebrating, some moments to reflect on the good things that make life worth living.
I’m feeling a little nostalgic and lone today. I haven’t given my daughter the Memorial Day she deserves as a child. Maybe next year. But, thanks to her, and the little tinkle of music coming down the street, I got to eat a strawberry shortcake and find some words to write (words that have avoided me all day):
Ice cream tastes better
when it comes off an ice cream truck.
Fried Dough tastes better at a county fair.
Marshmallows taste better after a barbecue.
Ice cold lemonade tastes better after playing in the sun all day.
Everything tastes better in the memories of childhood.
I am reposting this birthday post from last year, because I think I should.
I don’t know what it is about March 14th but I know more people born on that day (myself included) than any other day of the year. It has never really just been my birthday, since I was born on my cousin’s sweet 16–which completely freaks me out when I do the math. One of my closest friends in college had the same birthday as well, which led to interesting celebrations involving kidnappings and late night diner adventures. On Facebook alone I have four friends celebrating their birthday today (the college friend included). Happy birthday to us all.
And of course, we are not alone, as there are numerous historical figures of all types who were born on this day, perhaps the most famous of which is Albert Einstein in 1879. I share my actual birthday with actress Megan Fellows who performed in Anne of Green Gables which is one of my favorite books and mini-series. There are also plenty of historical events including war and peace, joy and sadness.
But, let’s face it, the reason the day is important to me is because it is my birthday.
I admit, though, that I have a slight dread of birthdays now, as the years pile on and life becomes harder in some ways. I know that the looming date of my birthday has influenced the past week of posts, and I apologize for the kind of general gloom and doom of my recent posts.
But, I have decided ENOUGH OF THAT! I am going to chase those birthday blues away by putting some fabulous birthday wish energy out into the universe! It’s my birthday, I can wish what I want to. And what better place to do that then into the blogosphere?
The combined wish energy of all the people born today has potential power. So today, I am going to make birthday wishes for every year of my life–not just selfish wishes, but wishes that I hope will bring some wonderful things to this world. In case you are dying to know, that means 43 wishes. That’s a lot of wishes I think. I am not listing them in any particular order of priority, I just want to put that wish energy out there in the universe and see what happens. I recognize that some of my wishes are nearly impossible, but if we all put power behind our wishes maybe we can change the world.
Emma Thomson, Felicity wishes
So here goes:
I am putting this one first because it is the most immediate. I hope that all goes well with my friend Elizabeth’s custody hearing today and her wonderful boys remain with their intelligent, beautiful, talented Mom.
May the pain and suffering caused by natural disasters worldwide (especially in Japan now) bring this world closer to recognizing that we have to help and support each other rather than thrive on hatred and war. May the survivors be helped swiftly and gracefully. (Does that count as two wishes? I don’t think so.)
I wish that Nathan, Sarah, and I could find the place/job/situation that we really want to call home soon (as in during this coming year).
I wish that all of us with dreams of publishing find homes for our manuscript babies.
I wish that my blogging family continue to grow and support each other, and create opportunities to meet, to create, and to expand our relationships.
I wish that the government would come to its senses and leave women’s rights alone, embrace marriage equality for all, and support programming (such as the arts) that will strengthen our country, our educations system, and our health care. [This is probably my most unrealistic wish, I know 😉 ]
I wish that discoveries would be made to help bring my father back to us, even if only for a short time.
I hope my whole family stays healthy this year.
I wish that I could continue the path towards becoming healthier and getting control over my own weight. I would like to not have to be on medication for my whole life, so I want to lose weight, exercise and eat right to enrich the life of my entire family.
I hope that Sarah embraces whatever changes may come, and learns to love the friends she has and live in the Now.
I wish for puppets, lots and lots of puppets.
I wish that Nathan and I could take that trip to Ireland that we have been wanting to take. And that all three of us can take a real vacation together somewhere fabulous.
I wish that all the people I have met recently who are searching for their purpose or some change in their lives can find their bliss and create a world that fulfills them.
I hope that I can write another novel without second guessing myself.
I wish that Tori Nelson would get book contract and mention me on the acknowledgments page. 🙂
I hope that my dissertation writing friends complete their dissertations, graduate with glory, and then move on to discover whatever it is they really want to do. 🙂
I hope my brother is able to pursue his passions and find his way to move forward.
I wish I could create a really beautiful piece of art. I’m not sure what kind, but I want to create something really wonderful.
I wish I could have a weekend at a spa, treating myself to peace, quiet and massage.
I wish that I could organize my time better, to allow for more time to read, to write, to create and to spend with my family.
I wish for some fabulous adventures of all types with my family, including some adventures abroad.
I wish whatever was plaguing my e-mail would be fixed soon [perhaps the easiest wish to solve]
I know that it is unrealistic to wish nothing sad would happen over the coming year, but I hope the times of joy are more numerous than the times of sadness.
I wish we could sell our house in Durango . . . SOON!
I wish that I could have a house that I am allowed to decorate again, the way I would like to.
I wish I could have a reunion with all my Durango friends who I miss so much.
I wish that I could reunite with other friends that I have been thinking about a lot lately.
I wish Sarah would embrace happiness.
I would like a slice of my mother’s chocolate cake.
I hope that we can get my older dog’s health issues under control so that we find fewer poop balls lying around the house.
I wish that I would figure out my new dreams soon, so that I could then make them happen.
I wish the economy would be better so that the unemployed will find employment.
I wish for books, lots and lots of fabulous books.
I wish that, as I lose more weight, I can finally begin developing my style again–a style all my own I’m sure, but one that I would like to have.
I wish Jasper, my younger dog, would realize that home is better than running away.
I wish I could ride a horse.
I wish Sarah could ride a horse.
I wish Sarah and I could take a mother-daughter belly dance class together.
I wish I could learn to meditate, or at least find more inner peace.
I wish to be “Furiously Happy.”
I wish the war would end, and no more wars would begin.
I wish for a warm cup of chai every day.
I wish I could take more naps.
Wow! It was actually really difficult to think up 43 wishes. But its my birthday, and I can wish if I want to.
The New Year is right around the corner. As usual I have put in the back of my mind the resolution to lose weight, to get healthy, to exercise more, to write more, etc. However, those are promises I’ve been making and breaking too often now, and I just recently recognized that there is one resolution that I must stick to before I can accomplish any of the others.
I am resolving to forgive.
This resolution runs deep, and underlies my ability to succeed in any other resolution I could possible make. This is not just about forgiving others for any perceived wrongs on their, part. This is about forgiving myself for the abuse I have given myself over the years, both mentally and physically.
Thus, my New Year’s Resolution for 2011 is to Forgive.
I forgive myself for the weakness that made me make some poor choices in the past, especially when it came to friends.
I forgive myself for not becoming the person I thought I wanted to be. After all, I may still be wondering what I want to be when I grow up, but the person I am right now is pretty interesting.
I forgive myself for gaining weight and not taking care of myself physically. I can only change that if I can forgive myself for doing it.
I forgive myself for my failures as a daughter, a wife, a mother, a sister, a friend. I know that I have many failings in these ares, but I also have many successes.
I forgive myself for my inability to completely forgive those who have hurt me. At the same time, however, I think I am very close to honestly forgiving if not forgetting.
I also must include in this resolution forgiving myself for the mistakes I have yet to make. I’m finally learning that I dwell too much on mistakes and not enough on achievements. So perhaps part of this New Year’s Resolution is to not just Forgive but to Honor.
That’s it! I hereby resolve to Honor myself and others throughout the year 2011 as well as the coming years. I also resolve to continue to forgive.
I honor you, my readers. I hope you forgive me for this post.
Later in the day . . .
I spent much of the day reading The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry. It’s a beautiful and intriguing book overall, but the following passage gave me chills as the universe sent me a message:
“All forgiveness is self-forgiveness. . . . But I do not yet know how to forgive. Or who, in the end, really needs to be forgiven. ” (Barry 383)
My daughter quivers with excitement, unable to sit still or concentrate on homework. It is the first night of Hanukkah, and she cannot wait. I wonder though if to her this night is only about opening one of the presents that are piled on the table. She counts the number daily to see if there are more. Eight presents, eight nights, but she hopes for an extra one.
She watches the sun waiting for the minute she can light the candles. My orders are clear, “Mommy, you light the helper candle (the shammas) and I get to light the other one.”
“Of course,” I say, thinking back to my own childhood memories of Hanukkah. I remember wondering if it was my turn to light the candles that night (since we alternated between the three of us). I loved the sound of the match striking, the smell of the sulfur sparking, the sizzle of the candles lighting. I loved deciding how to put the candles in, alternating colors some nights or using all one color the next.
I also remember debating the present issue. Should I open one present or all of them? Should I open the big one or the littlest one? (Often the best things came in the small packages as I soon learned). I know that presents became the focus often, but I don’t think it was just that for me.
To me the holiday was about light in darkness. It was my little bit of color in cold winters. I had this tiny little ceremony that warmed up cold winter nights. The colors of the menorah were as bright to me as Christmas lights. It was what made being different, being Jewish, worth it.
I think that is why I still light them with my family. They represent something joyous to me. I’m not super religious. I’m not even sure what I believe. But I cannot let go of the tradition. I want so much to leave Sarah with fond memories of candles lighting the house on a cold winter’s night.
I worry that all she sees is the presents.
As I type this, Sarah runs into the room, a smile on her face. She doesn’t say anything, just glints at me with a twinkle in her eye. She runs into the other room and says “The sun is down!” as if I am not sitting in front of a window watching the colors of day fade.
I ask Sarah, “Why are you so excited to light the candles?
“Because it’s fun.”
“Do you know why we light the candles?”
She answers, “I know part of the story. The oil lasted eight nights. I think we have a book.”
“Would you like to read the book?”
“Yes, after I finish my homework.”
Maybe I am creating a tradition that goes beyond the presents. It’s time to light the candles.
Okay, maybe I’m not that bad. I like Christmas. I like the holiday season. But, every year at this time I feel lonely deep inside.
Maybe it is the number of required festivities that bring me down. There’s nothing like an Office Holiday Party to make me feel like I am a stranger in the midst of people who have only one thing in common, the place they work.
Maybe it is the number of parties I don’t get invited to. Last year, we didn’t get invited many places because people felt bad about our leaving, this year, we won’t get invited many places because we are so new we only know a few people.
Maybe it is leftover from my childhood, when Christmas was something I saw only from the distance. Friends celebrated and I did not, being raised in a Jewish household. Of course, I always had the obligatory explanation of Hanukkah in school, which only served to make me seem even stranger to my peers.
Maybe it is the constant explanation of Hanukkah which is not really the most important holiday in the Jewish calendar, but has taken on the aura of Christmas. I love lighting the menorah, but at the same time it is a symbol of my difference. This year in particular our menorah will be one of a very few.
Maybe it is the hope of magic and mysteries that fill the airwaves, or the movies that always end with new love or Christmas miracles. Hope is high at this time of year, but after it is over we go back to the status quo, and that feels discouraging.
Maybe it is the fact that, since I work in education, I’m always facing my failures at this time. The students who should have done better. The grading that shows nothing has changed. True, I often have successes as well, but as any instructor knows, the pain of grading has the tendency to cut into the joy of the season. At least usually that grading can be supported by the decadence of chocolate, cookies, and egg nog lattes.
Or maybe it is that I look back at the year and see all the things I promised myself last year and did not achieve. Where did my weight loss go? Down and up on the scale as usual. Where is the sense of achievement? My portfolio keeps growing, my cv gets longer, but I’m still looking for something.
Maybe it is watching my daughter soak in the joy of the season and knowing that she will be a little disappointed when she doesn’t get exactly what she wants, or misses out on some festive fun. I love the smiles of children at this time; but the “I want” attitude really bothers me.
Whatever it is, at this time of year I find myself withdrawing just a little bit. I love the songs. I love the lights. I love the feeling of hope. But somehow, each year, it just feels a little bit lonelier.