Category Archives: Holidays

may we all have our hopes, our will to try

“Sometimes I see how the brave new world arrives
And I see how it thrives in the ashes of our lives
Oh yes, man is a fool and he thinks he’ll be okay
Dragging on, feet of clay, never knowing he’s astray
Keeps on going anyway…”

“Happy New Year” – ABBA

You know how much I love ABBA and how they have a song for every possible situation and event in life. “Happy New Year” (recorded in 1980 for the “Super Trouper” album but not released as a single until 1999) feels apropos at the conclusion of this godforsaken year. And before you chastise me for being one of those miserable souls complaining how horrible 2016 was, I know it wasn’t entirely awful; some good things did occur. I’ll get to those in a minute.

Make no mistake, though: count me among those glad to be drop-kicking 2016 into the ether of time while remaining vigilant of the dark days awaiting this brave new world arriving in 2017. I speak of the political, of course, since such events have been so dominant this year and will be into the next. As focused as I am on that (and will continue to be), this was an extremely difficult, stressful, overwhelmingly hard year for our immediate family on many levels. There have been a lot of losses — namely the financial and professional, but also changes with longtime friendships and some emotional and medical setbacks. I’ve gone into this in previous posts and most of it is better left off the blog, but suffice it to say this year has been a tough one.

Jing-a-ling-a-ling-a-ling-ling
The silver lining of not being able to afford a summer vacation means that I had an abundance of “use them or lose them” vacation days from work. So, I’ve been using them to catch up on TV shows, read a book or two, and spend some time with friends and family.

I’ve been binge-watching “This Is Us” and all of you who were telling me how much I would love this show were absolutely right. I know it’s been compared to “Parenthood”, but for me, it feels more like “thirtysomething”, for those of us who are old enough to remember watching that show, which was set in Philadelphia and ran from 1987-1991. Ken Olin, who played Michael Steadman on “thirtysomething” and directed several episodes, happens to be the executive producer of “This Is Us.”  Regardless, this is my kind of show and I love everything about it — the writing, the actors, the music, and (of course) the Pittsburgh setting.

Over Christmas, we spent some time back in Philly. It was a trip heavy on the nostalgia factor, which can be both good as well as unsettling. I had long, heartfelt conversations with two special people who I don’t see nearly enough, drove streets I haven’t been on for more than a decade, attended the Christmas Eve service at my former UU congregation with people who sustained us during some tough days long ago.  The Girl and I visited the family at the cemetery and I told her stories of those long gone. She and I had a delicious mother-daughter Christmas Day dinner at my all-time favorite restaurants, an unassuming gourmet Chinese place tucked in a suburban Philadelphia strip mall, the scene of many a date night back in The Husband and my glory days.

Moments That Mattered
So much of this holiday season wasn’t perfect (what is?) but many moments were pretty good. And that’s what I think I need to focus on more in 2017 — the moments themselves. Otherwise, the weighty expectations, anxiety, and emotional quagmires become too overwhelming. This isn’t a new realization or epiphany — just one that’s become more clear to me lately. Because yes, even in this craptastic and depressing year, there were some good moments. There’s always some good. Sometimes it’s hidden and hard to find, which means we need to look closer, go deeper.

Here’s some of what was good about this year:

I stepped up my writing game a bit this year with several book reviews published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and on Shelf Awareness.

Both kids made the honor roll this past semester.

I spent an inspiring and joyful day in my hometown connecting with my MRKH sisters.

I started running, at age 47, and discovered it’s not like high school gym class after all and, as such, I really like it.

Related to the running, I’ve lost 11 pounds.

A friend sent a generous gift.

I got to see Hillary Clinton the day before the election, and was close enough to wave and holler thank you.

Our cat made it through her dental surgery. (All of her teeth, sans two, needed to be removed.)

I went back to church.

And this. Oh my God, this … this absolute highlight of my year.

Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh 2016 cast, pre-show toast before our May 6, 2016 performance. Photo credit: Ashley Mikula Photography.

Being in Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh is one of my most significant and personally meaningful accomplishments — not only of 2016, but of my LIFE — and it will remain that way for me forever. I stepped way, way out of my comfort zone by auditioning for a chance to tell 500 strangers the most personal, intimate, defining story of my life in a performance shared via YouTube. (No pressure or anxiety there.) It was an experience that changed me. It was, without a doubt, the highlight of my year.

I hope that 2016 held some good moments for you, too. Without a doubt, it has been quite the year — and the one we’re headed into is, I’m afraid, going to be one where we will see some unprecedented moments that will change all of us. We will keep on going anyway, because, really, what other choice do we have?

Happy New Year, my friends. Here’s ABBA to take us out.

Happy New Year
Happy New Year
May we all have a vision now and then
Of a world where every neighbor is a friend
Happy New Year
Happy New Year
May we all have our hopes, our will to try
If we don’t we might as well lay down and die
You and I

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Sunday Salon/Currently … The Year Spins on Unheeding

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“Time, always almost ready 
to happen, leans over our shoulders reading 
the headlines for something not there. “Republicans 
Control Congress” — the year spins on unheeding.”

Those lines from William Stafford’s “Reading the Big Weather” certainly seem apt for this particular moment in time, as this dreadful year of unprecedented (or, rather, unpresidented) moments spins unheeding down to its near conclusion. A glimpse at the news shows that there certainly has been no shortage of unheeded things.

Of course my first interpretation of this correlates to the election and tomorrow’s convening of the Electoral College.  Save for a Christmas miracle and the ghost of Hamilton,  they’ll likely vote to put the most unqualified, thin-skinned, egotistical, racist, sexist, narcissistic, hateful liar and abuser ever imaginable in charge of our country. It doesn’t need to be said that I fervently hope that Santa and Alexander are in cahoots, because nothing else can save us from our apparent doom, it seems. It is all so discouraging and depressing.

As I write this, though, what to my wondering eyes did appear but word via Facebook of a true Christmas miracle here in Pittsburgh. I’ve been following for some time now Caitlin O’Hara’s need for new lungs. Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis on her 2nd birthday, Caitlin’s mom (novelist Maryanne O’Hara) has been chronicling their wait for a double-lung transplant after Caitlin, now 33, was officially listed as a candidate in April 2014.  Because she wasn’t eligible to receive a lung transplant at a hospital near her Boston home, Caitlin and her mother moved here to Pittsburgh to be closer to UPMC, which thankfully agreed to accept Caitlin as a transplant candidate, despite her high-risk status.

Last week, as Caitlin remained on life support, one of her surgeons declared her “the sickest person in the United States” awaiting a lung transplant. The situation was truly tenuous and fragile — and today, word comes of a donor and that the surgery has been completed

(A sad update:  I’m heartbroken to share that Caitlin passed away on Wednesday, December 21, three days after receiving her new lungs. She fought tremendously to live but was so very sick. I never met her but I feel as if I know her so well from her mother’s posts and Caitlin’s own writings. My deepest condolences to her family and friends who loved her so much.) 

Arctic temperatures have frozen Pittsburgh all this week and this weekend’s weather was just downright bizarre with snow and ice storms in the morning, then nearly 50 degrees. Late last night, there were rumbles of thunder. But, of course, Mr. Tweeter-in-Chief doesn’t believe in the likes of big weather (to bring this back to Stafford’s poetry) so, you know, nothing to see here.

a-scripture-of-leavesThis week in books I only managed to finish A Scripture of Leaves, William Stafford’s collection of poetry that was first published in 1990.  In the immediate shock post-election, I remember someone or someplace mentioning Stafford’s work and when I saw this slim, unassuming volume in the library, I picked it up, not knowing much about him but later learning that he was a pacifist and conscientious objector. Those themes show in his work with these poems set in nature and exploring themes of religion, social justice and the environment.

As the year winds down, I have an abundance of use-it-or-lose-it vacation time. Tomorrow at noon begins my official 13 days of Christmas vacation from work—save for one project that will need some paying attention to during this break. I have a pile of books at the ready, several blog posts waiting to be written along with some blog maintenance, a smattering of decluttering around the house, and a handful of appointments to keep both the cars and psyches in working order. Some (okay, all) the Christmas shopping still awaits along with some time with friends and family in Philly.

Mercury goes retrograde tomorrow. And so we spin on.

Mornings we see our breath, Weeds
sturdy for winter are waiting down
by the tracks. Birds, high and silent
pass almost invisible over town.

Time, always almost ready
to happen, leans over our shoulders reading
the headlines for something not there. “Republicans
Control Congress”—the year spins on unheeding.

The moon drops back toward the sun, a sickle
gone faint in the dawn: there is a weather
of things that happen too faint for headlines,
but tremendous, like willows touching the river.

This earth we are riding keeps trying to tell us
something with its continuous scripture of leaves.  

“Reading the Big Weather” by William Stafford

 

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sunday salon/currently … need a little christmas now

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christmas-tree-2016

Our tree went up this afternoon, and you can see it there, above, tucked between the sofa and the old half-broken chair where I write this (and every other blog post) in our mismatched and oddly-configured living quarters.  I’m hoping the presence of the tree raises my spirits a bit and gets me more into a proper Christmas mindset, whatever and wherever that might be.  I’m just not feeling it this season.

It’s everything and not just one thing — there’s the election aftermath, of course, with its accompanying stew of sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, and anger I feel on a daily, constant basis. I know — and I don’t really care — that I’m one of Those People whom others are frustrated with for what appears to be an inability to move on and accept this new reality. Believe me, I wish I could find some peace with this. I wish I could be all optimistic and hopeful but I can’t. I wish I didn’t give a damn.

I’m finding it hard to focus, which makes reading a bit of a challenge. I didn’t finish anything this week. However, November was a pretty decent reading month with six books read.

shut-up-and-runthe-rain-in-portugalmothering-sunday

springtime-a-ghost-storyborn-to-runhouse-of-silence

I’m at 40 books read for the year, which is my lowest total since 2008 (when I read a measly 28 books!) and the year I started blogging.  I’ll be happy if I reach 45 books. We’ll see.

Not much else to say today.  Hope all is well in your world and that you have a good week.

 

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Sunday Salon/Currently … Thankfully Reading, Christmas Music, and #turnonthelight

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We’re back from a quick (less than 48 hours!) trip to Philadelphia, where we spent Thanksgiving with both sides of our family. If you read yesterday’s post recapping that visit, you know this holiday had special meaning this year.

It’s also been an extended break from work for me; I’m off from work through Tuesday, thanks to an abundance of vacation days needing to be used before year’s end with still more time off at the end of the year. Nothing is planned for today except church and grocery shopping. Tomorrow’s fun includes a follow up visit to the vet — our cat had dental surgery two weeks ago and all of her teeth needed to be removed, except for two.  She’s made a remarkable recovery and is doing well so hopefully this will be an uneventful check up.

Thankfully Reading
ThankfullyReading2014Because of the Philly trip, I didn’t have a chance to participate as much in Jenn’s Bookshelves annual Thankfully Reading Weekend event as I would have liked. This is one of my favorite bookish happenings because it’s a no-rules, whatever works for you kind of thing. Since I’m jumping in late (officially signing up with this post as Thankfully Reading concludes) I’m extending my participation into Monday.

Here’s what I read this week:

born-to-runspringtime-a-ghost-storyhouse-of-silence

As a Springsteen fan, I was pretty sure I would like Born to Run — and oh my, did I ever. At its conclusion, Bruce (I feel I can call him Bruce) writes that he hasn’t revealed everything about himself in this memoir, but you definitely come away from this feeling like you know him and his music in a whole new way. A must-read for Bruce fans and one that will be on my Best of 2016 list (in just a few short weeks!).

Springtime: A Ghost Story is a bit of an odd novella by Michelle de Kretser, an Australian novelist who was born in Sri Lanka. Frances is a 28 year old woman living in Sydney with her partner Charlie. She sees a ghost while walking her dog and … that’s about it. I liked the concept of a ghost story in springtime, but this felt more like an unfinished short story.

Last night I finished House of Silence, a debut historical fiction/mystery/romance novel by Sarah Barthels. This is a review book, so I can’t say much more until after its December 27 publication date.

I’m not sure what I’ll read next. I have several books in progress and another review book on the docket so probably one of those.

One thing I’ve been reading more of is The New York Times. I decided that something I can do in this post-election world is to support quality journalism by subscribing to the NYT. (We also subscribe to our local paper.)  They had a deal last week where a subscription was $10 per month. For that price, I can forego a few breakfast bowls or afternoon coffees at work.

Need a Little Christmas Now … 
Every year, on the day after Thanksgiving, The Husband puts on Christmas music and listens to nothing else until January 2. (The two exceptions are November 29 and December 8 when he plays George Harrison and John Lennon nonstop, respectively, in honor of those two greats.) The Christmas music, though, usually drives me crazy. I can handle it in small doses.  Not this year. I’ve downloaded a bunch of new tunes from Spotify and am cranking up the holly right along with him.

#turnonthelight …
Our friends Jason and Rachel have launched The Holiday Lights Project  #turnonthelight to bring more kindness and joy into the lives of those around us.  They’re doing this in a big but quiet way, as is their style. They’re the folks who, while having breakfast at IHOP, pick up the tab for everyone in THE WHOLE RESTAURANT, not just the table next to them.  They load up gift cards with hundreds of dollars and hand it to a cashier, instructing them to pay for everyone’s coffee until it runs out. And they do this year-round.  (I know, because we’ve been the recipients of Jason and Rachel’s generosity many times.)

Obviously, we all don’t have the financial means to do this.  We certainly don’t. But we can all do what we can, even in a small way. (For example: since we weren’t going to be home for Thanksgiving, I donated some pumpkin pie filling and canned vegetables I’d purchased to the food pantry at church.) Jason’s post gives some inspiration for how we can all fight darkness with a little light, regardless of our status and station in life.

I hope your Sunday and the week ahead is filled with more light and less darkness. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to take this opportunity to say how grateful I am for all my blog readers. Whether you’re a newcomer to the blog or someone who has been reading for the past eight years, I’m very appreciative for you and your friendship. Thanks for being here! 

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Second Helpings

Before this tumultuous year, Thanksgiving and the weeks leading up to Christmas were already emotionally-charged holidays for me and The Husband.  A lifetime ago, we got engaged during Thanksgiving week. After years of infertility, our twins were born on Thanksgiving Day in a scenario straight out of a Hallmark movie:  twins, Thanksgiving Day, the most incredible gift you could ever imagine.

And then, exactly one year ago today on Thanksgiving Day 2015, The Husband collapsed in the middle of dinner. We hadn’t even brought out the pie. I found him barely conscious in the bathroom and performed CPR right there on the floor. Dessert was replaced by a rush of paramedics, police, tears and two hospitals before 10 p.m.

Thankfully, he survived this unexpected (and somewhat still unexplained) event; it goes without saying that this year — not to mention the rest of our lives — would have been extremely different if he hadn’t.  Grateful is an understatement. In the face of some significant losses and challenges, we still have each other. That counts for something (a lot, actually).

Nonetheless, there was a push-pull effect to this particular Thanksgiving.  Stay home or spend the holiday with family in Philly?  Part of me felt like sheltering in place after the past 17 days since the election. The appeal and comfort of home far outweighed the prospect of politically-charged dinnertime conversations awaiting us on the opposite side of the state.

At the same time, I didn’t want to be home with the ghosts of last Thanksgiving sitting at the table.

We decided to do a quick trip to Philly — less than 48 hours in duration, with 12 of those spent driving. Some close relatives have had medical scares in the past month, and this would be an opportunity to spend some time with them. As if we needed any reminding, life doesn’t come with guarantees. Take nothing and no one for granted.

At a rest stop in the middle of Tr*mpland, we instructed the children that there were only two acceptable topics of conversation for this visit (and probably every other visit thereafter):  The Weather and How Is School Going?.

“What if [insert name of relative who likely voted differently than us] asks us about the election?” The Girl asked, a bit worriedly.

“You say, ‘on the advice of counsel, I decline to answer the question,'” The Husband replied, prompting a discussion of the Fifth Amendment, because that’s how we roll.

As it turned out, everyone behaved themselves as best as possible. No politics were discussed. Instead, we celebrated the kids’ birthdays (and a nephew’s) with both sets of grandparents. My sister-in-law made a delicious dinner. The cousins had a chance to hang out and laugh and reconnect with each other, reminiscent of the kind of holidays The Husband and I remember as children with our own cousins. It was the first Thanksgiving our extended family spent together in six years.

And best of all?

Everyone had more than enough pie.

thanksgiving-dessert-table-2016

 

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rockets’ red glare (36/99)

Labor Day Weekend - Blue Rocks Game

It’s been a very low key Fourth of July here, despite the fucking fireworks rocking our neighborhood around the clock. I heard some at 12:10 a.m. the other night and as if on cue, just as I typed these words we quite literally were startled out of our seats by someone setting off what sounded like a grenade. No big deal that it’s currently raining; that won’t stop the jagoffs. If history is any indicator, this will continue for at least another couple of days.  I’m as patriotic as the next gal, but I’ll admit this isn’t my favorite holiday.

When the hell did this shit start of needing to have one’s personal fireworks extravaganza in your own backyard?  As a friend and I were saying on Friday night, this nonsense didn’t happen when we were growing up. People didn’t set off fireworks every night for an entire week preceding the Fourth of July and then for another week afterwards.  Independence Day was about having the family over for a barbeque, giving the kids some sparklers, and piling in the car to go watch a fireworks display put on by the local fire department — people who knew what the fuck they were actually doing around explosives.

I sound like a curmudgeon, I know. Truth be told, it’s been a tough weekend. Our lives changed dramatically a year ago on July 2 — and that ending was the beginning of a very difficult year. We don’t feel much like celebrating anything this year and it’s hard to foresee a time when this holiday won’t be tainted with sad reminders, regrets, and what-ifs. I’m trying to remain hopeful that things will improve (hopefully sooner rather than later) which will help mitigate the lasting effects of the past 368 days.

I wanted to do something to get our minds off of things, but we’re not outdoorsy or athletic or into big crowds or crazy about noisy things like parades or fireworks. Plus, money.

Ironically, that’s a picture from a fireworks display we were actually at, although not on the Fourth of July.  It’s from almost six years ago now, a Labor Day Fireworks Night at the Wilmington Blue Rocks game in Delaware.

A lifetime ago.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #36 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

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Weekend Cooking: New Cookbooks, A Festive Fourth of July Salad, and Blueberries (34/99)

Cookbooks - 7-2016

I’m craving some new recipes (my eternal, elusive quest for meals the whole family can and will eat) and have been checking out a bunch of cookbooks and foodie magazines from the library. We’re lucky; our library has an abundant cookbook section and it’s not unusual for me to bring home a pile of them.  I may not always get around to preparing anything from them, but there’s something so indulgent about browsing through a stack of cookbooks for inspiration.

(Plus, magazines count as a book for our library’s Summer Reading Program, so that’s another reason to consume them.)

We don’t have anything going on this weekend for the 4th of July.  The Boy and I went to ALDI today and got a bunch of fruit, including a gigantic seedless watermelon. I chopped it into cubes — it filled a huge container that would have easily cost $20 if I’d purchased it pre-made — and made this very festive Watermelon, Blueberry, and Feta Salad for dinner (along with hot dogs).

(Literally, that’s all it is: watermelon, blueberries, and feta cheese.)

Watermelon-Blueberry-Feta Salad

The berries are from our own backyard. One of the more pleasant things we acquired with this house were four blueberry bushes.  Of those, one has stopped producing and one never started, but the other two usually give us a decent amount.

This was tonight’s harvest. I’d estimate this to be about slightly less than half a pint. Hopefully we’ll get a few more this season before the birds make them disappear.

Blueberry harvest 7-2-2016

Hope you’re having a great weekend!

Weekend Cooking - NewWeekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts.

 

 

 

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #34 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

 

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