|Prompt: What is the best thing about January? Why?
#1 No major holidays. No high pressure shopping or cooking. No decorating anything. No special seasonal shows or parties.
#2 Days are shorter, which is okay on a short term basis. It makes you want to sleep in, go home early, be a homebody. (Short days, and therefore, less light are depressing for some people). I want to stay in and cuddle up with a blanket and a book, maybe, something hot to drink. Or if I want to be sociable, just chill with some friends in a low key way.
#3 It just feels like something's finished or finishing, and something fresh is beginning. It could be conditioning from going back to school or work. Or it's the hype that goes with a new calendar or resolutions. But it's a quiet month to reflect, assess, plan, and rev up.
#4 It could be a time to start a new project you don't usually do, like sewing, needlework, or a jigsaw puzzle. Or diet while no one is looking.
#5 Sometimes it snows in January in my part of the world, like today. I've had some Januarys that were icy and hazardous all month. I've had some warm enough to play tennis! Most are fairly mild with occasional white stuff.
#6 What's really good about January is Mother Nature's quiet work. The ground freezes, breaking up the soil, rotting the compost, and killing off the germs on the ground. It will be no time before the bulbs will be sending up shoots. Of course, the weeds and the kudzu are getting tougher and preparing to overtake us. The birds flock to my porch to gather up seed before the squirrels get it all.
| It comes so quickly, and goes ever more quickly. I hate seeing it all go away. I want to linger, holding a cup of hot tea and admiring my lighted tree in the dark. There's too much stress, and too many deadlines, before Christmas, to relax and soak it all in. I'm going to try to follow Robin McGraw's lead this year, and have it all out and ready to go up by Thanksgiving, even it's stacked in the furnace room. By Dec. 1, I want it all up and ready, so I can enjoy it, and maybe feel ready to let it go in January.
I also use the excuse of the church calendar. Prior to Christmas, it's considered Advent. Christmas starts Dec. 25 and lasts for 12 days. Technically, the wise men arrived in Egypt, not Bethlehem, when the baby was about two. So that date is usually honored as Jan. 6, marking a separation from the angels and shepherds and journey to the Inn. So I might take down the Santa faces, but leave up the greenery, the nativity, and my really cute magi sculptures. I have two attics to use, the main one, and the one over the garage. But I'm leaving the boxes stacked for a day or two to give my back a chance to heal from trying to pick up a two year old.
Having just spent the day, trying to pack things compactly, I realize that putting it all away is nowhere near as much fun as getting it out. I threw out some things that were old and tattered. We lose some each year any way, since my dad with his large arthritic hands has started decorating the tree. I don't complain, the memory of him trying to do it, is more valuable than the antiques he smashes.
We stumbled across what turned out to be practical and peaceful. We have a younger generation coming in with the little ones. They have to do Santa first. Then they go the mother's house for brunch (my brother's ex-wife). She has no other family, so it is proper that they go. They show up at our house about two, and the kids are thinking presents. They don't want a full sit-down meal. Then one of them has to go home to host her in-laws who bring all the food, so she does no cooking. She just provides the space for a large family dinner. My remaining brother comes from 70 miles away with his wife and son and arrive after 12. They can stay all day. (She has no family in the state.) I convinced my father, who generally prefers to do things the way he's always done them, to just have finger foods and appetizers. He took it a step further, finally, and bought bread and deli meats and cheeses. We put out sandwich fixings and desserts, and let everyone serve him or herself. It worked! The food was ready, they could come and go as they pleased. We even let the kids eat in front of the TV.
The best part is that I wasn't up all night baking ham or letting rolls rise. I didn't have to brine a turkey or time casseroles or heat up things. Getting to Christmas Day was much calmer and easier on me. This marks a dramatic change in our family traditions. The ones who could stay late, did so, then took tired children home to rest. We'll still have a big dinner at Easter and Thanksgiving, but we took some stress out of Christmas.
I still hate to see it go. The beauty, the lights, the cookies, the merry faces, the excitement. But maybe I can work on ways to make that happen all year long.
| My mother was superstitious, so I heard a lot of them when I was growing up. We had to have black eye peas on New Years Day for good luck. The rest of the menu just seemed to go with it: Greens, cornbread, stewed tomatoes (Southern style, not Italian), and iced tea. The meat would vary according to what we had or what was on sale. I'll fix all that tomorrow, but with ground steaks.
We had a neighbor who said it was bad luck for a woman to visit your home on New Year's, and I remember thinking I hoped she wouldn't bring a curse on us by visiting, although I normally liked to see her. I've also heard that whatever you do on New Year's Day is what you'll be doing the rest of the year. I thought it was primarily to keep people from being hung over on the first. However, I always make sure I do something fun and/or relaxing on New Year's, if it's only reading a good book or binge watching old movies. Apparently, some of that superstition is ingrained in me.
There is some work that day, because you have to go on with clean floors and meals, and so forth. But there's also the removal of Christmas decorations. My mom used to say you would get sick if the Christmas things stayed up. That probably had more to do with a real tree dropping its leaves and becoming a fire hazard, as well as other live greenery. I know plenty of people who leave it up longer without illness of obvious bad luck. Then there is the rare person who wants it all out of sight within a few days after Christmas. Never in my mother's house. I know two women with beautiful artificial trees who leave them up all year long. They dust them occasionally, but they have the room for them, and they're big and out of the traffic pattern.
Some people have to have a hog's head for Christmas. According to a British documentary I saw, this was Tudor custom. But where I live, it's mostly in the black neighborhoods. I worked at a grocer who sold them. They are spooky looking. Some cashiers would freak out and couldn't pick one up. I'm tough. I would excuse myself to the customer who heard the cashier screaming next to me, go ring up the hog's head, wrapped in meat plastic with the usual label, and put it in a bag by itself so she wouldn't have to see it. They're also a little fragile; you don't want to break its snout or crack the skull before you get it home. It looked to me like there's hardly any meat left on it, but the documentary showed it cooked and decorated. It's an acquired taste. That store still sells them. They sell a ton of them, with none left over.
I'm not too keen on resolutions. I always break them. I can make resolutions any time of year, not just January. I will also break them any time I make them.
Happy New Year.
|Prompt; What is the one thing you wish you knew how to do?
Play the piano. There. A simple truth, but one that takes a lot of diligence. It's best to start early, in preschool or elementary. If you learn to play a band instrument first, well, you can only concentrate on one note at a time, not a whole chord. It takes effort to read a single line of notes spread over two staffs, but seeing all the notes at once is very difficult, made even harder when the rhythm is different in each hand..
I have thought about putting it on my bucket list. I don't own a piano, although I probably have access to one, at least most weeks for occasional practice. Daily, not so much. And I might be a little thick headed and temperamental for a teacher correcting me. And I wouldn't want to do recitals with the other kiddies. However, I would love to sit down and play some music for my own enjoyment. Again, no piano, I don't know when I could do that. If I got rid of my sofa and end table and spent my retirement money, I could buy a piano.(How to get it up the stairs?) I'd make everyone gather around to sing along, since they wouldn't be able to sit.
It's something I've wanted all my life, but I am old now. It's not likely to happen. Imagine if I had started early. I could have played Bach, Mozart, and Schumann all these years, swing, love ballads, etc., even if I wasn't concert quality. It was just a missed opportunity.
|Prompt: “I often talk to people who say, ‘No, we have to be hopeful and to inspire each other, and we can’t tell [people] too many negative things’ . . . But, no — we have to tell it like it is. Because if there are no positive things to tell, then what should we do, should we spread false hope? We can’t do that, we have to tell the truth.” ~ Greta Thunberg
I basically disagree with the quote. I discriminate according to my listeners. With some people, I'm straightforward and honest, no matter how bad the news. With others, it's none of their business, or they have burdens enough of their own. I don't lie to them, I just avoid the truth. If negative things involve a lot of us, then rather than dwell on them, I try to find something else to discuss, to balance things out. Maybe the situation calls for an act of kindness, not a discussion. If I go out of my way to do something nice for someone else, I don't feel the negativity so much. The worse things are, the more we need to do and say good things.
I have cancer. I can avoid the topic, and never tell anyone what I'm facing. No one will understand my moods, or my busy schedule. I can focus on it, and make it the center of every conversation or encounter. No one will want to be around me. I can feel sorry for myself and indulge my gloom. I am volunteering at several places, playing hand bells, and singing in the church choir. I organized a family trip with 7 kids, who just made a Christmas memory to last a lifetime. I am baking cookies to take to several shut-in friends this week. I will act in a positive manner, but will respond truthfully when questioned. The truth, even when negative, does not have to defeat us or our relationships.
| A Holiday Affair is a lesser known Christmas movie. It stars Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh, and was made in 1949. It's worth seeing. Some of the best lines about love come from the men in the movie, including the supporting actor. There is one very short scene with Harry Morgan that's terrific, not realistic, but very funny. Supposedly, the director just let Morgan run with it, the way he wanted, and it turned out great. I am very moved by the movie every time I see it.
Another one I've just seen for the first time is Remember the Night, from 1940, starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stynwck. It's an unlikely event, but we buy into it right away, maybe more now more than they did in the 40's. Today, they would have taken a plane, instead of a car. The farm would not be managed by two older ladies, the salt of the earth type women that we all want to nurture us. And there wouldn't be an old-fashioned barn dance, and we'd have too many presents on Christmas Day, instead of the simple exchange of one gift each. But we do buy into it and fully accept it. By the end of the movie, where every thing is not settled neatly the way you want, I was sobbing out loud. It hit very suddenly. The tenderness and intensity between these two lead actors pulled me and had me hoping for the relationship between this unlikely pair
A Christmas Story 2 was not as good as the original because of the absence of Darren McGaven, but it's a believable follow-up of the 16 year old version of the 9 year old. The writing stays true to the original, even if the acting does not. And, yes, a resurrected version of the fish net stockinged lamp does show up.
|Prompt: Look out your front window or door and describe the weather. If there are animals or birds visible, how are they acting?
Looking out my back door, I see a gray sky and leafless trees with a few evergreens. There is no silence, but the chirping of busy birds and the chattering of squirrels. My presence there has run them off for the time being. It's very cool, borderline cold. In the distance I hear the traffic noise. Over my neighbor's field, above the trees I see birds flapping their wings. I know they are large birds because of the distance from me.
Now these flapping birds soar towards me, no longer flapping, but gliding over the corner of my yard, towards another neighbor. They are so high above the tree tops, which are pretty tall, and the wing span is huge. Just as I suspected, not crows, but turkey buzzards. There must be a small prey somewhere urging them on. There is something majestic and peaceful about the gliding. But I know they survive on road kill and violent deaths of small animals. Something of the chill and the bleakness of the day suits them.
Oddly, I don't see the stray black cat that I've been feeding for two years. He usually runs up from nowhere to beg when I step out. I have to find a way to trap him and carry him without him drawing my blood to the local SPCA, which will neuter him and do all the other things for worms, rabies, and fleas at no charge. But I have to pick him up and bring him back. I'm a little afraid of a feral cat. I bleed easily. But he does rub against my ankles when I feed him, and lets me rub his head only. He still acts afraid of me most of the time. So I have to be careful. That's a bleak job, too.