Thinking of Thanksgiving and Advent

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It has been almost two weeks since the U.S. Thanksgiving but I am still thinking about my thankfulness this year. I’m still thankful for those things close, my day-to-day world. I have a wonderful family with lots of grandchildren and even four great-grandchildren, two who are celebrating their first birthdays. I’m so thankful for the joy each and every one of them brings to my life. I’m thankful that Jim and I made good decisions in our earlier years, living below our means as our incomes increased so we could build our retirement funds. I’m thankful that we can afford to have a comfortable lifestyle while still able to help children and grandchildren as they need it. I’m grateful for our gathering last week-end to celebrate Lona’s first birthday, for the great food presented by daughter-in-law Natalia. I’m grateful that Jim and I are still relatively healthy in our mid-seventies and anticipate with great joy the coming together of our children, and their children, and a fourth generation child on Christmas Eve. I’m thankful for the friends of our children who will join us so that we have the blended chorus of phrases spoken in both English and Russian, and laughter that binds people together across cultures and ages.

Yes, I am thankful for the people who are a part of my life story, the people who make up my personal world. But this isn’t what I’ve been thinking about as I have been moving from Thanksgiving Day into the season of Advent. I can feel my mind and soul working hard to grapple with my emotional turmoil, to prepare my heart, mind and soul for the coming of the Christ Child, struggling to gain a greater understanding of what the Advent of the Christ Child means for how I live my life.

I’m in the 50% to 60% of the people who believe that our country, our democracy, is in great peril. This is a frightening time for me and I feel a responsibility to keep abreast of the daily news. What I am thankful for, from the bottom of my heart and with all my mind, are journalist. Even though they are verbally assaulted and receive death threats on a regular basis, they still go after the story. They are diligent in making sure their information is verified by multiple sources, sources they have nurtured by being honest and trustworthy with the sources. I am thankful for professional organizations and news outlets that take truth in reporting very seriously and sanction those who don’t abide by the ethical standards of journalism. Consequently, journalists take the responsibility to relay truth and be honest about their own bias very seriously as they report information (we all have them and must all be aware of our bias when evaluating information). And they persevere in searching for the truth, raking through the muck, sorting through the messiness of conspiracy theories and fake news. When I have to take a news break I wonder how they persevere.

Yes that is what I’m thankful for, but what does it mean as I move through Advent? If I am to celebrate Advent with integrity, it seems like I should explore what it means to believe in the coming of the Christ Child, to believe, trust, and live by what I have learned from the story of Jesus’ life on earth.

As I sit here struggling for words that heal and guide me, all I feel is deep anger… no rage – in response to the lying and the bullying that has taken place in our government over the past week, the past three years. I want to fight back. I want to write in such a way that my words make a difference. I want my words to land on ears that are open to hearing so my words touch hearts and change behavior. I want to scream Elijah Cummings words, “We are better than this.”

 

 

Artificial Change of Seasons

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We finished our fall clean-up so we could leave for our 5-6 week fall stay in Florida. We do it every year so I would think I would easily adjust but this year we were cleaning out the flower bed before we got much of a taste of fall in Michigan. The trees were just beginning to change and we experienced only one week of the glorious cooler days with lots of sunshine and low humidity that lets us know the season has changed. I went to the farmer’s market for vegetables to made salsa for canning. I experienced the bliss of pealing and chopping tomatoes, dicing peppers and onions, adding spices and vinegar, and then having the smell waif through the house as it boiled down before putting it in jars and processing it. I also canned a few jars of tomatoes for pasta, chili and soups throughout the year. I used roma tomatoes this year and the filled and processed jars were so beautiful. Apples were being picked so I bought some of my favorite varieties to make mixed apple applesauce to freeze for quick and easy side dishes. These are my normal routines that have been consistent for over 50 years. But this moving from north to south doesn’t seem normal (in spite of doing it for nine years) – it feels like we are messing with Mother Nature.

We returned from our 5-week trip to the west coast to a mostly spent flower garden. When I saw it I was ready to have the dying stems cut down, to clean up and make everything tidy for the long dormant season. I advocated for Jim to spare the coriopsis and sedum because the bees and butterflies were so busy around them – but then was so distracted by the discomfort of a molar I had removed on Tuesday of that last week that I don’t know if or when he cut them down. One ritual that we never miss is our annual discussion about when to take down the purple porch swing to transfer from the front porch to the back of the garage. How silly it is, but important, that I want to have the swing there for each and every beautiful fall morning when I feel compelled to soak up as much sun as I can; protection from the long, grey, frigid winter – that I escape for the sunshine state.

Florida is hot and steamy this October. I don’t think the weather here has made the transition to fall – but only full-time residents seem to know when fall begins and ends. Maybe they mark this change of season by the fall merchandise that shows up in the big-box stores. It sure looks like summer outside, but I bought a wreath for the front door with fall flowers and brightly colored leaves. The only leaves that drop here are the bald cypress and I don’t think they turn to a bright color. Southern Florida is evergreen and ever-growing. Any celebration of the change in season feels vicarious to me. Fall is that hurricane season when the temperature is lower than summer and before the season when hoards of snow-birds and tourists arrive. Maybe the snow-birds bring down the concept of a fall season with colorful leaves, orchards with red apples being picked and hayrides on very cold nights – much colder than the 78 degrees F. we had last night.

And I’m out of sorts either because my mouth isn’t normal or I’ve crossed Mother Nature – nothing serious but just uneasy. I’m doing the tasks that need doing but doing them with a heaviness of spirit. I’m piecing cheerful throws, or quilts, for the guest bedroom – a project that I started several years ago. I’m undecided whether they will be throws folded at the end to be opened for more warmth on cooler nights or whether I will make them twin size to use as the main cover. It will probably depend on when I get tired of piecing and whether I want to pay to have the twin size long-arm machine quilted.

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I think I will use the piecing of this quilt as a time of contemplation. I have withdrawn socially in the past few months but this quilt pattern suggest how we are all braided together, our lives are intertwined. I need to think about this as every day seems to bring news of the death of someone in my past – so many deaths creating voids. But that’s another blog.

 

Lake Michigan, Harbor Springs

_DSC0074We went “up north” last weekend camping with friends. This wasn’t a new location to us, with lots of new areas to explore. No, we have been here before, many times so it was more like going “home” to the “up north” that includes anywhere above the midpoint of the Lower Peninsula into the far west end of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We have vacationed at different places throughout this large area for close to 50 years so we can engage in many “remember when…” conversations. Conversations like; “Did we come here with … or …? Wasn’t this the place where Mike… or Sharon… or Carol …? Didn’t we have the …. camper when we camped here, was it in 1976? This sure has changed a lot – its not as I remember it.

It was a beautiful weekend in Petoskey, on the shore of Lake Michigan almost to the tip of the mitten-shaped Lower Peninsula. The temp was in the low 70’s with a cool breeze to complement the warm sun traversing a very deep blue sky. On Friday we drove north along the Lake Michigan shore making our first stop at Harbor Springs. I did a little shopping but mostly tried to capture the spirit of the small towns that cater to tourists who are discovering the beauty of our Great Lakes for the first time or the people like us who have been going “up north” for decades. Many of the people were young families with strollers and young adults in small groups.

Harbor Springs was just waking up to summer, enjoying the laid back quiet before the throngs of summer visitors arrive. The planters were newly planted with bright summer flowers and spring iris and daffodils were blooming. There weren’t many boats in the harbor marina and hardly any people walking the streets or shopping in stores. A couple of shop owners told us this was the first week of being open, probably recently returning from their winter of managing stores in southern Florida.

The most obvious sign that we are in northern Michigan is the presence of fudge shops – lots of fudge shops. It appears that this shop is stocking up for the 4th of July week-end.

I resisted, although Lynn and Gary confessed to indulging in something decedent and very tasty. I am convinced, however, that I gained about a half a pound smelling the wonderful aroma coming through the door that was propped open to the morning breeze.

I really enjoyed meandering through the gift shops looking for things that I normally don’t shop for. I only bought a few little things but was reminded that this is a shopping area with a short season evidenced by their simple way of writing up an order. No fancy technology here – the clerk is getting my change from a small metal money box under the counter.

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As my purchase was being bagged the clerk said that if I liked cookies I should go to the next corner, turn right and cross the street. And of course we did.

We bought enough to split one now and another later, and some to share with our friends. The ones with chocolate were the best, but I didn’t need to tell you that.

Our friends were exploring somewhere that Hemingway is said to have frequented when he visited upper Michigan. While they were doing that, I was admiring a bronze statue of Hemingway that was for sale in front of an art gallery. The owner of this gallery had an eye for talent that resonated with my taste. Fate intervened to require that our credit card be cancelled and a new one issued the day before we left and Jim had the single other card we have as backup. Sometimes life just works out like it should.

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Funny how certain tiny events can evoke big and beautiful memories. We had crossed over to the shady side of the street and I had sat down on a bench to enjoy being who I am in that moment in time. As we sat, two boys passed in front of us, one a little older was striding with purpose, with a dollar bill in his hand. The second boy was younger, full of excitement, and bouncing down the street sideways. I overheard the younger ask if maybe they could get some ice cream at the general store that was their destination. The older replied with the authority of age that they would have to check the price.

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Those boys were me 60-some years ago. I remember the power of having money in my hand, especially money I had earned, heading for the corner market to make my decisions about what penny candy to buy – without adult supervision. I remember hopping along beside an older cousin I trusted and admired as we went down the street to the dry cleaners that also sold stamps for our stamp collections. Yes I remember this summer day from the being of a child, from the being of a young mother responsible for the fun and earned privileges of her children. And best of all, I experienced this summer day from the being of an old person with time and money to spend for small pleasures.

Dreamed into Being

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The idea that we are dreamed into being by generations past is a common one among Indigenous people around the world. I realize that I hold it so deeply that I am surprised when it is new, and resonates, with others.  Michael Watson – Dreaming the World

I follow Michael on WordPress and many of his posts speak to me about things I know, but know with shadows around the edges. He brings a personal perspective to what I know about being different, having unique needs in a world that very often finds people who are different scary or annoying. And he offers me insight from a world perspective that I’m familiar with only through reading novels or professional literature.

Periodically Michael talks about the role of ancestors from generations past, usually insights on how they influence mental health and relational difficulties. When he talked about being dreamed into the world by ancestors, I had to do a lot of thinking to wrap my mind around it. But I liked the concept. I just wasn’t sure I could believe my ancestors dreamed me into being.

Could I really have been dreamed into being when my being wasn’t planned by my 17 year old second-generation Polish Catholic mother who worked at a soda fountain and my 16 year old Anglo somewhat-Christian father who played football in his junior year of high school. This was in 1943 when out-of-wedlock pregnancies were a disgrace and Catholics weren’t allowed to date Christians. And Christian parents warned their adolescents about marrying a Catholic. I wasn’t planned for – maybe not even wanted. Did my ancestors from generations past on both sides of the Atlantic really dream me into being?

After months of letting this concept percolate through my brain cells I have discovered that I actually find comfort in believing that my ancestors dreamed me into being. I can support this comforting belief because I am dreaming my great-grandchildren into being and even my grandchildren’s great-grandchildren. I also believe in an afterlife and my afterlife wouldn’t be worth looking forward to if I couldn’t continue to care for and guide those who are born long after I have departed.

On this Memorial Day weekend I spent some time thinking about the people who are no longer living but have impacted my life. Because I have been loved and nurtured throughout my life, I feel better equipped to deal with the pressure of living in a world with increasing threats and challenges. Because others felt hope for me, I also have hope for opportunities for self-fulfillment and loving relationships for my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren as they negotiate creating lives with integrity.

I am also in the process of thinking about how to integrate into my self image those who prepared the way for my birth, loving me long before I was born. “May we remember that we are the prayers of past generations, and their hope for the future, and may we carry those hopes and prayers lightly into the future as we continue to dream future generations into being.” (Michael Watson)

 

Sunday Calm: Somewhere Far Way

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I’m still pulling from my Florida files because the weather has been so grey that I haven’t gotten out to capture the beautiful unfolding of Spring here in Michigan. This morning I sat on my purple porch swing, the warm sun on my face, not thinking about my garden that I can hear growing right in front of me. I’m not even thinking about going out on a photography jaunt.

No, Jesus help me, I’ve been thinking about politics. I’m not sure if my prayer for the help of Jesus is to stop me from thinking about the scary place we seem to be in, politically speaking, or to help me clarify my thoughts so I can speak out clearly and convincingly – at least to a few people who need to hear what I’m thinking.

That is where I am on this Sunday morning. Someplace between the calm of having a scone overlooking the lily pond at the Naples Botanical Garden and thinking through what I would need to say if I was willing to pull myself out of my need for calm and peace long enough to fulfill my civic responsibility. We will see what happens.