The longest night and the shortest day.

For many years now our little family has marked this day on the calendar with an open house party full of friends, family, food, music and cheer.

It has morphed over the years as our lives shifted from lots of little kids running around, to our daughters teen friends mostly hanging in the attic, to very adult cocktails and chat.

We started this celebration as a way to make something special for our daughter as we navigated holidays tied to religions that neither my husband nor I practiced.

He was raised Jewish and I was raised Catholic, so we have small Christmas tree and we light the menorah, but the Solstice party (with latkes and Christmas cookies) was what we cooked up as our tradition.

I always like throwing parties.

Planning a menu, stocking the bar, decorating the house, and playing hostess to myriad friends, acquaintances and colleagues makes me happy.

I enjoy laying out a buffet of chafing dishes filled with latkes, arancini, and spinach dip followed by the totally fun moment of lighting the canned heat.

Plotting out the perfect cheese board and artfully arranging crudités, spiced nuts, olives and crackers is a delight. Arranging tiers of Christmas cookies, chocolates and torrone (which only I eat), makes me merry.

For me, it’s deeply satisfying to share love and friendship through food, wine and conversation.

And of course any excuse to wear a cocktail dress and red lipstick is always welcome.

This year, because of the pandemic, we won’t host our Solstice Party but our little family will raise a glass to toast the longest night and know that we are moving again toward the sun.

Wishing you joy in what ever holiday(s) you celebrate in the winter season, and hope for a sunny tomorrow.

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This morning while I was getting dressed this morning my husband said “TGIF!” and I said, “Really? You’re sure it’s Friday?”

His professional life still has standing meetings that keep him aware of the calendar in a way I that I clearly lack.

Holidays are also sneaking up on me at this point.

Tonight is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and it always reminds me of my husbands grandfather, Norman. I only knew him for a brief 6 years before he died, but I loved him and miss him still.

Norman was a story teller with a forceful personality. He was equally kind and caustic, friendly and demanding, and because I was new to the family, I could enjoy his flaws and find his quirks charming.

My husband and I went to dinner with Norman at least once a month back then, and then more frequently after his wife Frim passed away. Eventually I started cooking meals for him at his house and this always included sweets.

A favorite of his was the Crowned Apple Cake for Rosh Hashanah. It looked dramatic and was dense with apples and honey. It made for a sweet New Year and a happy memory. 

Rosh Hashanah always feels like the start of the “baking season” filled with birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah, and ending with my daughter’s birthday in January. 

Now, in the time of Covid, when caring for ourselves and others means NOT gathering, it’s hard to mark the holidays and rituals. Milestones like graduations, weddings, and births come and go with muted celebration and little fanfare.

And while I regret the lack of celebrations, I am most distressed by our inability to mourn in person.

It is almost impossible to lessen someones grief. All we can do is show up, pay respects, and mourn with our people during the most brutal of milestones. Bear witness and bring food.

And now we can’t.

I know we will get through this pandemic and it will be a marker in our history and memories – a before and after time. And hopefully it will forever help us remember what is truly important in our lives.

For me, as I am sure it is for most folks, most important are those I hold dear. The family and friends that I long to hug, and celebrate with, and comfort through all the milestones and all the rituals.

I look forward to the day we can be together.

Until then, to my family and friends, and to all those who celebrate across the world, L’shanah tovah.

I wish everyone health, happiness, and a sweet New Year.

 

Feeling a bit like a tumbleweed tossed around by life at the moment. Family and friends, a wedding and a funeral, rituals and milestones that mark time.

Being equal parts over committed (my own fault), and under participating (+ feeling guilty), makes it hard to stay present.

The other day I said to a frantic faculty member “surely you can gift yourself 30 minutes to start writing your white paper. Set a timer.” She took the suggestion and churned out a page of writing.

So today I gift myself with 10 minutes to write a blog post.

Today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and it always makes me think of Norman, my husbands grandfather. I only knew him for about 6 years before he died, but very much loved him and his forceful personality. A raconteur of the first water, equally kind and caustic, friendly and demanding, I was new enough to the family to enjoy his flaws and find his quirks charming.

My husband and I went to dinner with Norman at least once a month and then more often after his wife died. Eventually I started cooking meals for him at our house or his. I made him meat dishes that he loved, even though we are vegetarian and I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing, and of course sweets.

My favorite was the Crowned Apple Cake that I made him for Rosh Hashanah. It looked so dramatic and was so dense with apples, it made for a sweet New Year and a happy memory.

L’shanah tovah to those who celebrate.

10 minutes is up! (not my cake below, but same recipe)

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I don’t think the words Wide Awake really capture the feeling of not sleeping at night. Wide awake is a daytime kinda thing, implying perky energy and a clear gaze. Fast Awake on the other hand is the sticky glue of being in the iron grip of your monkey-mind that doesn’t know enough to shut up for five or six hours.

It’s amazing to me the things that can plague my thoughts while I am not sleeping:

  • SCOTUS and the disastrous decisions they have made or are about to make – didn’t they see American Hustle? An all Koch Brand government is a good thing?
  • The on boarding list I’m creating for my new assistant, who doesn’t start for another two weeks. Also wondering why the process isn’t standardized since people are hired everyday.
  • Wondering which of my friends is awake right now making lists, drinking tea, reading, worrying…
  • Planning the Passover menu & trying to remember the name of the green bean & asparagus salad I made last year that everyone liked.
  • Ordering and re-ordering the chapter names of the book I tell myself I am writing.
  • Feeling bad that my friends are moving because I will miss them terribly, and then feeling guilty and selfish, trying to imagine how I can help them with the transition.
  • Calculating the number of years it will take to pay off my student loans and how many of those years will overlap with paying my daughter’s college loans.
  • Trying to imagine how to increase my dwindling list of coaching clients and stagnating business while maintaining a full-time job.
  • Whether or not I should get out of bed and go read something or throw in a load of laundry…

The question every morning is where do I put my energy in a sea of competing priorities and deadlines. The question at night is where do I put my attention. Obviously it’s not on sleep.

I love the fact that owls, no matter how cute or fluffy, epitomize resting bitch face. I can relate. But that’s another post.

GreatHornedOwl-Wiki

Congratulations if you are able to read that word and not hear singing. Unfortunately I both see and hear Topol as Tevye. Always.

One of the things that didn’t occur to me until I was a parent was how much our actions around holidays shapes a feeling of tradition for our kids. Growing up I had a feeling of “the way things are, is the way things are” that didn’t shift until I started experiencing holidays outside of my clan.

My father was a big believer in “there is only one right way” which, in retrospect, probably afforded him a feeling of control in a sometimes chaotic world. But it didn’t leave any space for the opinions or disagreement any of his six children. Come to think of it that may have been part of the motivation behind his attitude. Holidays were often…tense.

For many years after my husband and I got together we continued to observe holidays with both families in the manner dictated by their tradition. We were spared the two stop issue many couples face by virtue of his family being Jewish and mine being Catholic. When our daughter came along the holidays became about her. The traditions slowly crept in the way that they do, adopted, adapted and invented.

One way we acknowledge our differing traditions, and our whole-hearted lack of religious observance connected to any holiday, is by celebrating the Winter Solstice each year. The shortest day, the longest night, the Solstice has been used to mark the season since ancient times.

And now its our tradition – the light returns and so we dance!

Since I will be too busy dancing naked in the moonlight to post to my blog tomorrow – Happy Solstice to All!

(Some people still think “pagan holiday” when they hear Solstice so I included the de rigueur Stonehenge at sunset. And no, there won’t really be any naked dancing.)

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Sometimes the future arrives when you aren’t even looking.

The other night we attended the fall concert at my daughters high school and I got to see the future up close. The school has a tremendous music program so the evening included chamber music groups, concert orchestra, concert band, symphonic winds and two jazz ensembles. And they were all outstanding.

In the concert band trombone section a girl who identifies as a boy was allowed to wear the jacket, trousers and bow tie boys uniform rather than the floor length black dress that the girls wear. No one blinked when she made the request. No one remarked when she performed.

Later during the jazz ensembles I remarked how the pretty (and talented) drummer would be a good match for one of the boys and my daughter said “No, she’s a lesbian.” And no one blinked.

I remembered the boy in my daughters middle school that came out as bi-sexual in seventh grade and the girl who came out as a lesbian, and thought this is why I live here. This is my community.

In this one place, for these children, it is okay to be gay, lesbian or bi-sexual. There may be other problems in their lives but hiding part of who they are at school is not one of them. That’s some kinda progress.

And I am thankful.

Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and continued progress.

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Working out this morning Crabby Jackie finished early and as she left she said “Goodbye ladies, see you Wednesday, which is May Day, so I will expect my May basket.” I had never heard of a May Day basket.

Several of the women started talking about getting them when they were younger. Turns out there was a tradition of filling a small basket with flowers and candy, hanging it on a persons doorknob, ringing the bell and running. An anonymous pretty treat without all the trauma associated with valentines day – brilliant.

I mentioned that I remembered a May Queen ceremony at my church when I was a kid but wasn’t sure it had anything to do with the basket tradition. I have a clear memory of this one event because my older sister was the May Queen. My mother and Aunt made her this lovely full length dress from a sheer, gauzy material with an orange blossom print overlay. It was the 1970’s so the dress was very flowy and vaguely old-fashioned looking with a high waist and a large bow in the back. My sister wore her long, straight hair parted in the middle and had crown of fake orange blossoms to wear on her head. To my six year-old eyes she was a beauty queen.

The point of the May Day ceremony my sister participated in was to crown the Virgin Mary statue because May was a celebration of Mary, not the pagan holiday it started out as, or the International Workers Day most people think of. Beltane (or Walpurgis Night) was transformed into a benign tradition with a maypole and garlands, rather than appeasing spirits and welcoming spring. May Day was more important than the vernal equinox in pagan rituals because it was when you put the animals out to pasture. How that became a ritual about the Virgin Mary I don’t know. Further investigation required.

It was nice to be reminded of my sister being chosen the May Queen even if I didn’t know what it meant then, and can’t quite figure it out even now. Spring is here and it’s time to go outside.

When I figure out how to post a picture from my phone to my blog I will update this post!

It is spring where I live which means there is snow on the ground and several more inches threatening this week. This time last year it was 80 degrees and sunny. Two weeks ago it was 65 degrees and sunny. Mother Nature is obviously menopausal.

As I drove my daughter to school she and the car pool kids were complaining about the weather because its almost spring break etc, etc, etc. I told them I remembered many an Easter Sunday with snow on the ground when I was a kid. Part of that is the magical liturgical calendar, which I am sure is calculated in a sub-basement of the Vatican using the phases of the moon and cast chicken bones, and part is global warming which causes the lake effect snow by us.

When I was a kid every Easter we would get a new dress, hat, gloves and Patten leather shoes for church. Invariably the dress was made out of some sheer material with cap sleeves guaranteed to leave you with goose bumps the whole day. Even the leg wear was thin – ankle socks with lace rather than tights.

My brothers on the other hand got a pair of dress pants, long sleeve button shirt, jacket and tie. They were warm, we were cold. And so began the lessons of women needing to suffer to look beautiful.

As I was relating the unfairness of the Easter clothing to my captive car pool audience I remembered the purse we would make in Girl Scouts every year. First we would spend several meetings crocheting a square. The square would then be made into a tube by lacing a piece of ribbon along two edges, with another ribbon laced through the top to create a drawstring. We would then cut images out of magazines and decoupage them them to plastic margarine tubs. Once the tub was sufficiently decorated and dry, we would punch holes around the edge and use another ribbon to lace the crocheted tube to the tub.

Found this on Etsy. Mine never looked this good.

Needless to say the kids in the car thought this was hilarious. I tried to explain that it was the 70’s and we decoupaged everything, but I guess you had to be there. I just found the instructions for Margarine Tub Purse in the 1972 edition of a “Polly’s Pointers” column. I was not the only one subjected to this craftiness!

This endless “craft project” produced what was now called a purse, intended to be used for church on Easter Sunday. A purse just big enough for some folded up Kleenex, some money for the collection plate, and a lip smacker. Bonne Bell Lip Smackers was a home town company and a big craze for a while. Originally they were as big as glue sticks & with a hook and a cord so you could wear it around your neck. Orange Crush, 7-Up and Strawberry were my favorites.

The smell of Spring.

It is oh so tempting to let myself get caught up in the posturing and brinksmanship of the fiscal cliff (non)negotiations – I think Jon Setwart’s “Cliffpocalypsemageddonacaust” says it all. However, it reminds me too much of other things I worried about to no avail (the manufactured debt crisis, the endless house votes to repeal ACA,  Occupy Wall Street), so I am trying to be more detached.

Instead of obsessively reading news sites when I need to “take a break” at work I’m going to attempt to get up from my computer and walk around the block. This will be my Hanukkah gift to myself. Which allows me to start obsessing again on December 17th (post-Hanukkah), the date Nancy Pelosi said a deal would have to be inked by in order to get the paperwork done so politicians can leave DC by the 23rd. We’ll see if getting home to Church services with family (and constituents) is a motivator.

I’m glad we have a week break between Hanukkah and Christmas this year. We celebrate both in our little atheist household, so it gets to be a bit much when they overlap. My husband is not big on decorations, although he does tolerate the tabletop Christmas tree because it means something to me. Because he was raised Jewish and I was raised Catholic our daughter gets an amalgam of holiday traditions as we both choose only the bits we like and make up everything else.

For Hanukkah we light the Menorah and put out eight small presents for my daughter. I know non-Jewish kids get all jazzed about the idea of 8 nights of presents, but in our house at least it is not the major haul of their fantasies. I think the excitement for her is that they sit wrapped on the buffet so she can touch, shake and choose what to open each night. One is always a “gift certificate” to our local independent bookstore where we all choose new books, and then go for french fries & milkshakes at a favorite restaurant.

To her dismay I have a rule about no Christmas decorations overlapping with Hanukkah decorations, unless the calendar forces me, so we will not put up the tree until the 17th. And down it comes on New Years day. And of course, like all good Jewish/Catholic/Atheist families, we go to a movie & get Chinese food on Christmas day.

That reminds me, I don’t think I have 8 presents yet. 48 hours to finish my shopping, find the blue wrapping paper and see if the leftover Menorah candles melted over the summer.  Then I can start working on the Christmas gifts.

As many people do we went around the table on Thanksgiving and everyone shared something they were thankful for.

There was a general consensus about being thankful for family, friends and health as we took turns, and then the kids start getting very specific with things like “Cows, because I like cheese”. The adults mentioned Obama’s election, ACA, Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown and Tammy Baldwin among other things esoteric and mundane. When it was my turn, the first time before everyone started having fun with it, I said I was thankful for abundance.

Sitting around the table that night were adults who all had well paying jobs, two cars, big houses filled with electronics, warm clothes and all the food we could eat. That is abundance any place in the world.  

I remember the first time I realized I was not poor. I got into my car after grocery shopping and couldn’t remember how much I had just spent. I swiped my card, money was being debited, and I didn’t know exactly how much. I had only just recently gotten over my embarrassment at the parcel service, which is mandatory at this grocery, and stopped trying to carry all my bags to the car just to avoid having the high school kid wait on me.

I thought of this as I shopped at Whole Foods for expensive (worth every penny) goat cheese and fancy olives Thanksgiving day. What made me feel “not poor” then and now was the act of buying what I wanted at the grocery, rather than only what I could afford. I don’t use a calculator while I shop (my sister still does) and have a very loose food budget that accomadates organic produce and whims like fancy cheese. 

I say “not poor” rather than rich because its all relative. My husband and I have been middle class for more than 15 years now if you use the definition of “middle class” as those making anything from $30,000 – $250,000 a year. We are by no stretch of the imagination “rich”. On the other hand, while sorting my mothers papers after she died I discovered that my father’s highest salary was $35,000 in 1992, the year that he died. Using the inflation calculator that would be worth roughly $18,000 today. So by that standard, we are rich indeed.

Rich and poor are such interesting words. When I was truly poor as a kid I had no idea because everyone around me was too. Now that I am no longer in that category it gets kinda fuzzy. Richer than some, poorer than others, I still worry about money, cut corners, clip coupons and try to appease the warring factions in my head. The urge to share, treat and give gifts because I can is deeply ingrained.

Something that people who have grown up middle class or above sometimes don’t know is that most poor people, or I should say the ones I grew up with, are very generous with what they do have. They put money in the Sally Army kettle, give a stranger a cigarette and let people crash on their couch. Someones always got it worse. I’ve joked about my mother and her “Some people don’t have any legs” riff, but at its core its true.

Whatever your circumstances there is something to be grateful for. We live our lives in abundance.

I’m funny about my feet. I got it into my head at some point during the last 40 years that I shouldn’t inflict my bare feet on anyone unless my toes were properly groomed. I know many people who have never had a pedicure and loathe anyone touching their feet. I’m not one of them.

I love having someone rub lotion into my feet and paint my nails but it’s an expense that falls into  the unnecessary and extravagant category so I only do it a few times a year. One annual pedicure I never miss is pre-Thanksgiving. Because we travel to and stay with my husbands brother and his wife I feel obligated (and justified) in having my holiday pedicure since they will be viewing my feet for four days.

Getting my holiday toes done is an excellent start to an excellent holiday. We all look forward to the annual trip and leisurely visit that includes enough time to catch up, reconnect and enjoy each others company. As holidays go its just about perfect. No gifts. No religious obligation. No singing. Just food & friends (who are family). Can’t get much better than that.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

15 years ago today my husband and I were married. I know this because it is in my calendar and a little message pops up on my smart phone screen the week before so I don’t forget. This is necessary because I did forget once. Spectacularly.

One morning my husband, who will be called long-suffering for purposes of this story, brought me my coffee in bed and handed me a little box with a bow on it. “What’s this?” I said as I opened it to find a ruby tennis bracelet and matching earrings. “Oh how lovely!” I said still completely baffled as to why I was receiving a random present. “Happy Anniversary” he said in a voice that defies description.

That was our 5th anniversary and I clearly had no clue, no present and no way of faking my way out of it. In my defense I have a hard time with dates. I am happy my birthday is a mid-decade year so I can quickly calculate how old I am when someone asks. It’s that bad.

I’ve had some gadget helping me remember important dates and events since they were first invented in the 1980’s. They were called Electronic Organizers then and were roughly the size of a kindle, but it remembered for me. From there it was a constant evolution of Palm products and iPhones until I now have a (highly annoying and buggy) cloud system syncing my calendar and contacts on my phone, my iPad, my desktop and my laptop. There is no such thing as too much calendar.

This is, however, not a love letter to my iPhone or simply a reminder to readers that I am highly skilled at tangents, it is a brief reflection on my marriage.

I never thought I would get married because I think it is a permanent decision and how could I ever find someone who, a) I liked enough to consider marrying, b) liked me enough to consider it as well, and, c) would tolerate my zero tolerance policy on divorce and cheating. Well super powers prevailed and the only man I ever referred to as “my boyfriend” became the man I call my husband.

The actual getting married was traumatic because we were trying to be elegant and frugal and inclusive of various family members, and somehow work in something for my Catholic family and something for his Jewish family, and who knows if it all worked or mattered in the end.

I wrote some obnoxious vows about marriage being an institution of women’s oppression and then cried during the whole thing. I cry easily – TV commercials, feel good movies, you name it, I’ll cry at it – so the love and happiness on my soon-to-be-husbands face during the ceremony made me cry. He told me later that I gave him a moment of panic because he thought I had changed my mind. Not a chance.

People talk about the various trials of marriage and relationships, how you grow together or apart, tests of patience and fortitude and so on, but I think it boils down to what Olivia Harrison said when asked how she and George stayed together for 23 years – “Don’t get divorced”.

So Happy Anniversary to the man I won’t divorce. I would do it all again. Sans crying.

Give a listen to my favorite track from the George Harrison album (yes album) that was my present this year.

Someone asked me, as people do – “Got good plans for the Labor Day weekend?” and I replied Yes! I will be glazing windows! You?

This led to my explaining glazing which is a word that describes the glass itself as well as the caulk like compound used to keep the glass from falling out of the window. Glazing, being exposed to weather, chips, cracks and all around disintegrates which then leads to drafty windows. So it has to be repaired. Actually, to be truthful, what has to happen is:

  1. scrape away old glazing
  2. sand window frame
  3. repair cracked or damaged wood
  4. sand newly repaired cracked or damaged wood
  5. clean window frame
  6. apply new glazing and replace glazing points if needed
  7. allow glazing to cure, apply primer
  8. paint

Glazing is why people get replacement windows.

Still it is Labor Day when, if you’re a home owner, you’re obligated to labor on your house, garage, driveway or deck to begin the countdown to winter. And we live in a tricky weather area, so we could have snow in 30 days or 90 days. I need to look at the Farmer’s Almanac soon.

Owning a house is in itself a labor. Now I know why my parents saw every long weekend and day off of school as an opportunity to round up their children and teach them the meaning of work. In their defense there is a lot to do to keep up a house.

My husband and I are continuing this tradition in that we have made the front porch renovation (glazing, scraping, painting etc.) a family affair. Our daughter is a good with a putty knife and doesn’t mind painting the low bits so we can save our old, old knees.  This allowed me to blow off the Mormon missionary guys making their rounds last weekend when they offered to help.  I said we were training our daughter for when she owns her own house, so they went away. Its nice that they offer to help. I never accept.

The last thing I said to the woman today – who now knows all about glazing windows – was ‘Dont ever buy a house.’

Her face lit up like I gave her a gift. She told me she didn’t want to buy a house, but everyone in her family kept telling her it was time to buy a house, and renting is like throwing your money out the window, and I was the first person to ever tell her it was a bad idea to buy a house.

I told her a house is tons of work and responsibility and owning a house is not a symbol of adulthood. And if she absolutely had to own something she could someday think about a condo, but don’t rush it.  If she gets the urge to buy a house she can come over my place and caulk the tub, or clean gutters or something else necessary and disgusting and just get it out of her system.

Happy long weekend non-home owners!