Tidings of Great Joy

Christmas illustration

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is Monday, so it must be my weekly newspaper column–hope you enjoy:

        “The Christmas tree?  All Christmas trees are perfect.” –  Charles N. Barnar

My Christmas spirit is intact. My Christmas tree is up and I wonder now what took me so long. If I remembered more clearly each year how much I love having the tree up, I would probably put it up in mid-October. I am thinking it is a good thing my memory is so poor on this particular point—even I would get tired of having a tree up for two and a half months.

          Everyone has a different tradition when it comes to putting up their tree. Those who go the traditional “real” tree route have no choice but to put their tree up a little later as a tree bare of its needles is none too festive on Christmas Day—and that is what happens if you put them up too early. I have not had a real tree for years but I do remember the daily watering and finding needles hidden in the carpet in July—neither of which adds to the charm of a real tree for me. But the smell, the smell is wonderful—which is why I have a wreath of real spruce branches on my door—I can go and stiff it at my leisure, and enjoy it as John Geddes describes the scent beautifully in A Familiar Rain: “freshly cut Christmas trees smelling of stars and snow and pine resin – inhale deeply and fill your soul….”

          I consider the tree I put up a “real” tree in the sense that it carries the weight of Christmases past, the joy of Christmas present, and the probability that it will still be around for Christmas future. It is not one of those more expensive ready-lit trees; it is old, the branches are a bit unwieldy, and though sparse I have the tree in a corner and have trained the branches to curve to the front, so it looks much fuller than it really is.

          The tree is always dressed to the hilt—decorations drip from every branch and at the top is a little wooden plaque that I attach to a gold wicker star that declares: “Memories are made every Christmas.” Below it is a beautiful oval ceramic decoration given to me by my sister that purveys the sentiments of the season: “Behold I bring you tidings of great joy.”

          I understand that Christmas does not bring everyone joy. I am fortunate in that even though I have lost dear ones at Christmas, known of people who have had to deal with great tragedies during this festive season,  and had to deal with troubles of my own—the season brings a respite of sorts for me. I know it does not serve everyone this way—as I said, I am fortunate. (Living in temporary denial helps a lot—somehow I have the capacity to put reality on the back burner for a while.)

         

christmas tree with honest to goodness real ca...

christmas tree with honest to goodness real candles (Photo credit: ambienttraffic)

I remember reading books about Christmases past, in the days when the Christmas tree was not put up until Christmas Eve, and the crowning glory came when the lights were turned on (or lit during more historical and need I say it, dangerous times) for the first time. I love that tradition but not enough to relive it myself.  Amidst the daily grind, I enjoy being able to feast my eyes on something that takes me out of the moment and into a pleasant reverie.

          Last night I sat in the living room with all the lights out except for those on the tree—and the word magical sprang to mind. Transforming what is essentially a Charlie Brown Christmas tree into a thing of beauty is truly mystical. And that is highly representative of the season—it is mystical in the way it transforms even Scrooge attitudes into Tiny Tim’s way of thinking.

          Christmas does not solve all our problems but the season and its meaning, whether spiritual or secular (or both) gives us something to hang on to. There are those who believe that the “reason for the season” is not given enough air time; but I think that the feelings derived from Christmas do not have to be limited.

          There seems to be a controversy over whether one should say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”. I am not entering the fray—I will stick with Merry Christmas but happily respond to Happy Holidays. At this time of year we should practice tolerance and not get in a snit—stick to your guns and expect others to respect your viewpoint. Problem solved.

          I leave you now humming “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire”, dispersed with a little “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas” while listening for some “sleigh bells in the snow.”

Ideas and What To Do With Them

Tomato Juice in a glas, decorated with tomato ...

Tomato Juice in a glass, decorated with tomato slice and sprig (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is my weekly column–now you will know what I was busy doing on Saturday. There is some local lore here–Richard Scarsbrook is from Toronto now; the Workshop was held in my hometown of Kingsville;  Coopers Hawk is a Winery just a few miles away; the Mettawas is a local restaurant in our refurbished train station, and Merli’s is a quaint eatery just down the street from the library:

            A gathering of like-minded people met last Saturday to form a community for a day. A community we all recognized—creative people assembled to learn something new, to gain inspiration, and to add to our body of knowledge. We attended a Short Story Writing Workshop led by a local boy “made good” author Richard Scarsbrook, originally from Olinda. He opened the workshop with these words: “I want you to walk away with two things today: ideas, and what to do with them.”

            Before the workshop I wrote a few articles about it for the paper, and described Richard as dynamic—but only because I had gleaned the information second-hand. On Saturday I experienced the truth of the word dynamic: energetic, active, lively, vibrant, and full of life. All those words described our leader for the day, who took his cue from us in how he structured the workshop. He had a handout that he used for part of the day, but abandoned it somewhat in the afternoon after hearing what we wanted to concentrate on.

            The venue was provided by the Essex County Library Board. We used the activity room in the beautiful Kingsville Library as our “classroom”. Organized by volunteers for “Wine, Writers and Words”—it was in this volunteer’s eyes an unmitigated success. Personally I loved every minute of it—from the workshop itself to the lunch at the Mettawas Restaurant, a wine tasting put on by the affable and knowledgeable owner of Coopers Hawk Vineyard, Tom O’ Brien to an open mike session followed by the fellowship at Merli’s just down the street. It was a full day of my favourite things: writing, reading, eating, conversation, and a little wine.

            Admittedly, I have been writing this column for years so I must try and come  up with new ideas on a weekly basis—but a workshop of this sort really helps the creative juices run afresh. One of the exercises Richard provided us with was the prompts provided by  six words that he said were guaranteed to get us writing. And right he was. Apparently the words he chose are psychologically proven to get our minds in gear and our fingers working. I was surprised how each of the words brought up strong memories. The first word was childhood, which evoked in me a memory that has obviously been lurking in the background for a long time. The subject is kind of quirky, the memory not life changing, yet there it was. I will give you a taste of what the word evoked during the workshop:

            “The whole family was invited. Grandparents. Aunts and uncles. Cousins. And of course mom and dad and my brothers and sister. Even Tippy, our dog, was excited.

            We had set up the dining room table in the living room. It was joined by sundry and other tables to make it long enough to seat twenty-two people.

            I was in charge of setting the table, a job I enjoyed even as a kid. Lining up the silverware just so. Placing the glasses between the tip of the knife and corner of the plate. And since we were having company we used our tiny glasses placed in the middle of the plate to hold tomato juice. That was always the sign that we were having either a special meal or holiday dinner—we had tomato juice to start the meal.”

            That was as far as I got as the exercise was timed and we had to stop writing—but Richard said that the whole idea behind the prompt was to give us something to start and a place to go with it. So here is the rest of the story—be forewarned, it is a little….well, I will let you be the judge of it:

            “After setting the table, I found a glass of what I thought was tomato juice poured into a lovely container. To this day I do not know why I did what I did next—but I took a drink from it. It was not tomato juice at all! It was my mom’s homemade chili sauce. And she was none too pleased that I took a sip from it. Many times during my life I have asked myself “what was I thinking?” and I believe this was the first time I had this thought. How could I not have recognized that the lumpy chili sauce was not juice? I was mortified by my mistake and skulked away to my room. I think I remember this so well because I was deeply embarrassed about my stupid mistake—and it ruined the special meal for me.” I understand that this is no piece of writing genius but it is a vivid memory drawn from the word “childhood”.

            The workshop happened through the hard work of Nancy Belgue, Tara Hewitt, Brian Sweet, Joan Cope, Arleen Sinasac and to some extent me. A lot of thought and rethought, planning and replanning went into the day, and speaking for myself (and hopefully the other participants) “a good time was had by all.”

Sweet Regrets

 

My Way: The Best of Frank Sinatra

My Way: The Best of Frank Sinatra (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you are human, you have regrets. Even Frank Sinatra “had a few, but too few to mention.” But today I am talking about sweet regrets—regrets that do not fall in the category of serious missed opportunities, things we want to repent,  or misgivings about what we might have said at a party after one too many. (Not me of course, but I have a friend………..ha ha)

Sweet regrets are those things that we look back on fondly—something we once had, but now only have only the memories–and yes maybe some missed opportunities, but missed opportunities that we can call on and wonder, “what if,….” but in a daydreamy kind of way and not with angst.

My sons are now in their twenties, and I regret that in the busyness of raising them, I may have missed out on really enjoying all the little wonderful things that happened.  The bouquet of dandelions brought to me by my eldest. The way my youngest got off the bus at the corner of our street and ran toward me with arms outstretched for a hug. There is nothing better than being the centre of the universe for your child. In time, it is short—but it is one of the loveliest memories I have.

I was fortunate to be the recipient of some advice given to me quite unsolicited at the grocery store when my oldest son was being somewhat “spirited”. He was two at the time—and I need to say no more—as everyone remembers what “two” is like. An older lady, seeing that I was perhaps a bit challenged walked up to me and said quietly “Enjoy him now, they grow so quickly.” I would on many occasions remind myself of her words—on those days when the third glass of milk had been spilled, or I had cleaned up the Legos and “car cars” one too many times. Her voice steadied me as my kids grew up. I think I can give her all the credit for having fewer regrets and more sweet memories.

My biggest sweet regret is that I cannot have a “do-over”—those days of youthful exuberance have been replaced by grown up boys—nay, men—though my youngest insists on calling himself a “man-boy”. (Just an aside here—aren’t all men man-boys; and all women merely girls with life experience?)

I have other sweet regrets—and while they are mine, they are not mine to share in a public forum. But they are part of me and inform the decisions that I make now.

What sweet regrets do you have that you can share?

Note: This post was inspired by a reply to a comment I made to notquiteold’s post Do-Over. In response, she said: “Sweet regrets is a perfect description.” Go to her blog to see why.

Published in: on September 13, 2013 at 1:03 pm  Comments (28)  
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A Quilt Scrap of Stars

Kingsville

Kingsville (Photo credit: Wilson Loo)

I live in town. About 8 blocks from uptown Kingsville on Lake Erie. About 7 blocks from downtown Kingsville. (Actually this is sort of a joke, because I do not know the difference between uptown and downtown ~ maybe I will Google it.) I am about two blocks away from the lake. One block away from our beautiful town park with rolling hills. The hills are very gentle, but in flat Essex County they are a rare commodity.
When I look up into the sky at night, I can see a sliver of the universe.  But I do not see the whole sky as there are trees and houses that block my view and streetlights that dim it.
I grew up in the country where the skyline went on forever, uninterrupted. I miss that. A blanket of stars and not just a quilt scrap. More than a glimpse at the moon but the moon in all its reigning glory.
I just read a post on the blog, lakesuperiorspirit by , and it reminded me of my childhood days in the country. Reminded is the key word as my experience was not the same as hers, but the endless sky hit a deep note of nostalgia for me. Check it out–It is called:
“How chickadees sleep at night in winter and other forest tales”.

What is your view of the night universe like? And do you know the difference between downtown and uptown?

Remembering June

              Remember June when you were a kid? It was warm outside and the last thing you wanted to do was sit in a classroom.  Yet, you had to endure exams even if you wanted to be playing baseball, or skipping rope, or just doing nothing. Remember when exams were over, and it seemed silly to still be in school?  But those days at the end of June were a nice breather—the teachers were a little more relaxed (once they got the exams marked) and many a June day was spent outside with your class under a shade tree, listening to the teacher read a book, or using art class to sketch a little nature, or doing a science project which entailed examining a pail of water with tadpoles and other tiny life forms found in a nearby mud puddle, or if you were lucky, the creek.

            June was also the month when teachers found time to take students on nature hikes or a picnic at the park.  It also featured the end of the year party. That party was always fun, but you knew once the summer was over, you were another year older, and in another grade which expected more of you than the grade you were currently in.

            One of the fun things that happened in June when I went to a one room school house was that we sang a lot. We had a music teacher come in during the week, but every day our regular teacher would lead all the grades from one to eight in a sing song. One of my favourite songs was “Puff the Magic Dragon”, the words of which take me back to a time of innocence, when summers went on forever and growing up seemed far away. The song, written by Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary fame) and Leonard Lipton is based on a poem Lipton wrote in 1959. (info from Wikipedia)

            Examined more closely from an adult perspective, it is actually quite sad—it is the story of a little boy who grows up and loses interest in the things of youth and belief in the imaginary. To jog your memory, here are a few verses from the song:

1. Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee

Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff,
And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff.
2. Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail
Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff’s gigantic tail,
Noble kings and princes would bow whenever they came,
Pirate ships would lower their flag when Puff roared out his name.
3. A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.
4. His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain,
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his life-long friend, Puff could not be brave,
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave.  

          

Puff, the Magic Dragon

Puff, the Magic Dragon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  I am not going to ruin a song from my youth with rumours of what some of the words “really meant”—I am taking them at face value. And at face value they tell the story of growing up.

            As adults we can capture the children we once were with memories of songs like “Puff the Magic Dragon”. We can remember those days with a fond nostalgia that does not have to be lost. The days with seemingly no responsibility, when our parents sent us out to “play” and we were not confused as to what to do—we rode our bikes, went to the store for popsicles, explored nearby creeks, read while sitting in our favourite tree, played a game of baseball that needed no adult supervision or organization, discovered fairy rings, or just lay on the lawn seeing what we could see in the clouds.

           

Is June the beginning of summer bliss? According to Wallace Stevens: “A summer night is like a perfection of thought.”

My Safe Harbour

Trees

Trees (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

MY TREE

No longer in the backyard of my childhood home

My tree lives on only in my memory.

In yesteryear

I would climb into my tree everyday

and sit in its generous crook,

my back leaning against the rough bark of the trunk.

The branches formed a canopy

shadowing the sun

A breeze would rustle the leaves ~

and I would settle in with a book

or just observe the world

whiling away an endless summer afternoon.

I was sad to see one day

when I went to visit the place where my beloved tree once reigned

that it was gone.

But,

the vivid memories remain

of sunlit days sitting in my tree

safe and apart, yet one with the realm ~

English: Venerable tree, Breamore Down This be...

Venerable tree (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I ruled the world from its safe harbour.

 

Remembered bliss–is there anything better? Do you have a childhood memory of bliss that stands out?

Published in: on April 18, 2013 at 9:49 am  Comments (53)  
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A Littered Mind

My Messy Desk

not my messy desk–but close enough (Photo credit: born1945)

Day 5 of Poetry Month reveals a truth:

A Littered Mind

My desk is littered with scraps of paper

Scribbled notes, phone numbers

Reminders of things I do not want to

FORGET……..

But sometimes I cannot remember whole blocks

of time……………

Where did they go?

Are they in the recesses of my mind

At a depth  only an archaeological dig can extract ~

Or are they gone forever?

Sometimes people will tell me that I have been

somewhere

And done

something

that I do not remember.

So now I keep scraps of paper

that litter my desk

in a valiant attempt not to forget.

I know it will not work.

Days Gone By

The first stanza of this poem from one of the Five Poets, Lenore Langs, is the perfect way to start off the week:

She Never Finished Anything

was distracted from her prayers

by the flash of a finch’s wing

decided to follow a regime

of monday cleaning tuesday laundry

but took her coffee

to the backyard for ten minutes

on the first monday

and stayed all morning

watching the light change

lilac Syringa vulgaris in bloom

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

on the leaves of the lilac.

Lunch at Saint James Cheese Company

(Photo credit: Brother O’Mara)

I love this poem for so many reasons. I remember that my mom had wash day on Monday, ironing day on Tuesday, and heavy duty cleaning day on Friday (she cleaned every day but especially on Friday); and Friday night was grocery night and on many a Saturday night we had sandwiches and potato chips and not a big meat and potato meal that we had every other day of the week. I loved the Saturday suppers — so relaxed and everyone would seem to be in a good mood. Mom would set out the cold cuts and lettuce and condiments and pickles and we would make our own sandwiches around the kitchen table. And if Mom had not baked we would have probably made a Saturday trip to town to the bake shop and feasted on jelly donuts for dessert. Heaven!

What are some of your heavenly blissful memories of days gone by?

Published in: on March 25, 2013 at 3:19 pm  Comments (42)  
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Life is Not Pure Bliss-But Surviving Is

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I find I cannot do this post justice today as there are so many emotions that bubble to the surface, but I still felt I had to commemorate the day:

Twenty-seven years ago today I welcomed my first-born son into the world. Welcomed though is such a calm and happy word and in this context it does not tell the whole story.

Adam was born 11 weeks prematurely. He was obviously in a rush to come into this world, but in his rush, I did not get to hold him for at least a month after he was born. I visited him in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) for those four weeks, and was only able to touch him through the holes of his incubator. And then it was only to brush a finger along his tiny arm, or touch his leg ever so lightly. I decorated his incubator with cards and cut-outs and little stuffed animals.  My mom knit him the tiniest of hats and booties to wear with his cut in half diaper (whole diapers were huge for his 2 pound 5 ½ ounce little body).

So many memories—some frightening, some wonderful—but the end result is that today he is a healthy thriving 27 years old. A basketball player, a musician, a reader, a boyfriend to a lovely girl/woman, a man with so much potential—and it is potential he will reach and surpass.

Of course, I am his mother, and I am proud of him. I remember the journey to get here—and though life is not pure bliss—having survived and come through to tell this happy story today is.

A memorial of sorts

One Room School

One Room School (Photo credit: W9NED)

This is a shortened version of my column for the newspaper:

Sometimes writers need prompts. Something to get the juices flowing. This morning a prompt from WordPress read: “A place from your past or childhood, one that you’re fond of, is destroyed. Write it a memorial.”

And do you know what immediately came to mind? The one room school house that I attended for the first four years of my school life. It was called  Zion — and yes, we walked about a mile and a half to school (it seemed like five miles) but not in bare feet, or in ten feet of snow.

I cannot remember when the school was torn down, but whenever I pass the spot where it stood, a wave of nostalgia passes over me. I wish it were still standing, though if it were, it would probably have been turned into someone’s residence as so many of the smaller schools have been. Students who attended these schools were eaten up by either regional or town schools, but their experiences at the one room schools would never be lost.

I loved and hated that school. We were exposed to such a variety of kids that it really did stand us in good stead for a life that is made up of all kinds of people, and not just kids our own age. You learned how to cope, how to get along, and you learned that life was not always easy.

What I loved about the school was the fact that we were exposed to a unique learning experience. We learned our lessons, but were able to “listen in” on the lessons of the other grades, and if you were an eager student you garnered an education above your years. We did a lot of things together as a whole school. We played baseball together; we had a school choir where we competed at a yearly concert; we practiced for the yearly Christmas concerts together; and we exchanged names for Christmas gifts.  You were just as likely to end up with some grade eight boy’s name, as the girl who sat next to you in your grade.

What I hated about the school were the things most students would hate about any school—if you were picked on, or you were not quite up to snuff in sports, or if you were the teacher’s pet. But those were all valuable learning experiences as well, if not the most pleasant. (I still remember being taught how to make an iceball—a snowball with ice in the middle that hurt like heck if you got hit with it.)

One of the best things about a one room school for me was that the teacher had to divide her time among all the grades, so when she was not teaching you, you had all the time in the world to do your lessons, then read as much as you wanted. Since I loved to read, this was a real bonus for me.

After grade four,  I was moved to a regional school and put in a classroom of kids who were my own age. It was quite a transition. We had a teacher who was available to us all throughout the day, which was a good thing, but left little time to be on your own.

I am glad that I got to experience both ways of being educated. I would never give up the things I learned at the one room school house. To this day, I miss being able to see a piece of my history. The school was the same one my parents and aunts and uncles attended, and even some of my grandparents.  It was the true essence of community.

I will never bid a fond farewell to Zion—it will always be fraught with sadness.

Where is the bliss? Not in the fact that the school was torn down, but in the fact that it was a piece of my history. What piece of your history is missing, but still remembered?