O Christmas Tree

Ms. Claus Has a Dilemmasmall-christmas-tree

I have nowhere to put my Christmas tree this year. The living room still has the new bedroom furniture in boxes in front of the fireplace, which is where we normally put the tree—to the left of the fireplace in the corner. However, there is no access to the corner because of the huge boxes. The only other possible place is the space between the living room and the dining room. However that space is currently being occupied by what I like to call an art nouveau sculpture: a chair on which is perched precariously a box, another box, some file folder, various papers; behind the chair is another box containing mysterious content; next to the mysterious content box is what I believe to be an old CD holder, some more file folders, possibly some office supplies, and other colorful pieces of unidentifiable stuff, for lack of a better term.

The sculpture is being held together by a substance known as dust, which, when left alone for months at a time, becomes very durable. No one has tried to move this sculpture because we have become so used to its presence that it is now a part of our daily lives. We walk around it, reach over it, and occasionally add a new piece to it in an attempt to expand its essence. Even the dogs give it a wide berth.

I have lost several items over the past year, a few books, a sweatshirt, some sunglasses. It is entirely possible that they have been absorbed by the statue. I have no doubts that it has begun to take on a life of its own, which is why I no longer have any interaction with it. It is slowly moving towards the table on which the printer sits. I expect it to mind meld with the dining room computer at any time. In a way, it reminds me of the plant in Little Shop of Horrors. Any day now, I fully expect it to demand to be fed something or else it will devour the Jack Russells.

Nevertheless, until someone tackles this mass of clutter disguised as art, I will have no place in which to set up a Christmas tree. This will not be a good thing for all involved, believe me. I keep to myself for most of the time, have given up the living room and the big screen HD television to those who use the XBox. I don’t use the dining room computer because I have my own nice wide screen right here in the bedroom. But when it comes to Christmas and the Christmas tree, that’s when I have to draw the line. That’s my holiday, and I refuse to budge on this issue.

Even though I stress myself out completely in the attempt to create a wonderful Christmas each and every year, I still go through the madness. I want the house decorated inside and outside. I want the tree up, and I want all of the lights on it. To add to the madness, my OCD about Christmas lights is one of the things that I have not relinquished. I wrap the lights on the branches, not just around, which means that I end up putting about 12 strands of lights on the tree, and I won’t give this job to anyone else because no one does it the way in which I want it done. Admittedly, when I’m finished, I am not pleasant to be around, so we usually decorate the tree in a two-step process: lights on one day, ornaments on the next. I do lights, everyone else does the ornaments.

I do the cards and most of the wrapping. Brett has started to help with the wrapping, which is nice, but even he can’t understand why I get to OCD over wrapping presents. Why three strands of ribbon instead of one? I love to make presents look beautiful even if no one really notices. It’s just part of the tradition that I’ve created over the years, a tradition that albeit is more stressful than anything else, and one that I refuse to let go of even though it sends me off the deep end. If you are trying to find logic here, there is none. Believe me, Corey has been trying for years, and he has finally just accepted the madness rather than try to understand it.

Truthfully, I think that really it’s my last connection to doing things the way in which I used to that I just cannot let go of, no matter how much it costs me. I love Christmas. I love the lights. I love the trees. I love the packages. I love to give things to people I love. Corey doesn’t love Christmas in the way that I do, so he doesn’t understand my compulsion about all things Christmas. I want him to love Christmas in the way that I do, but he doesn’t. I try to understand that not everyone likes the holidays, but the kid in me wants to pout and make everyone love this holiday.

I’ve thought about it a lot, and I’m sure that it goes back to my childhood. Being an only child didn’t necessarily mean that I got a lot for Christmas because actually, I didn’t. But as far back as I can remember, we always had nice celebrations at Christmas. In England, Father Christmas would come to school, and we would have Christmas pudding and sing lot and lots of carols. When I was about eight or nine and my dad was out to sea at Christmas, we would spend the holidays either at Great Bridge with all of my cousins, or we would go to Winston Salem to spend the holidays with my mother’s other sister and my cousins there. So it was always a time for family. My mother always made sure that I was surrounded by lots of people when Dad wasn’t there, so I have very warm, loving memories of Christmas as a child.

It was never about the presents. It was about the season. As I got older, I carried that with me, and I created my own traditions, and I don’t want to let go of these. The boys have always gotten up really early and cheated by looking in the gift bags, which is why I wrap about half of the presents. We always unwrap presents as a family so that everyone pays attention to what other people are getting. There are always presents from Ms. Claus and from the dogs, too.

Everyone has homemade stockings, and filling the stockings is as important as the presents. No one ever knows what might show up in their stockings. And of course, when the kids were younger, we left a plate of cookies forgrinch Santa and some milk. The boys asked me if I ate the cookies, and I could honestly say that I did not becaue I didn’t.

I suppose, in the end, for me, Christmas is still magical. I am still filled with wonder and hope, which is why one day very soon, someone in this family is going to have to kill the beast that has grown in the dining room so that I can have my Christmas Tree. Otherwise, the Grinch may take up residence until the problem is fixed, and that just won’t be good for anyone. We’re going to have my Christmas, dammit, even if I have to kill everyone in the process.

More later. Peace.

I Vant To Be Alone . . .

Hermits, Eremites, Anchorites, or Just Plain Recluses?

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Aran Islands Hermit's Cave, Ireland

I’ve been contemplating hermits. You know, those people, usually men, sometimes women, who go off and live by themselves. (The word hermit comes from the Greek word erēmos, which means desert or uninhabited; hence “desert-dweller”; adjective: “eremitic”; (Wikipedia)).  Hermits have been around since the 3rd century AD, and their associations have traditionally been religious. Originally, Christian hermits would live in huts or caves, called hermitages, in the desert or forest, and they were sought for spiritual advice, which kind of negated the whole solitude concept. (Here in Norfolk, we have a museum called The Hermitage, which has nothing to do with hermits, and that’s always kind of bothered me, but I digress.)

By the Middle Ages, the hermit’s life had changed in that it had become more anchored to the Christian church, thus the term anchorite. Instead of living in forests or deserts, many anchorites were actually walled into mud or brick attachments on the sides of the churches with a window opening into the church so that the anchorite could receive holy communion and another window open to the street to receive donations of food. I suppose that this allowed for more of the life sought by the Christian eremite, which was to be in total praise and devotion to his god.

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Tiger's Den Buddhist Monastery in the Himalayas

Of course, there were and are many kinds of hermits, not just the Christian ascetics. For example, Buddhist monks and nuns seek solitude for meditation, contemplation, and prayer. They prefer to life without the distractions of modern society or sex, and their lives follow a regimen of a simplified diet without meat, drugs, or alcohol. Buddhist monasteries and temples can be found all over the world, with an expected preponderance in China, but also from every place from Queensland, Australia, to Slovenia, to Oregon, to Chile and Bali.

Then there are the hermits who have no religious affiliations, the ones who are hermits simply because they choose to live a reclusive life apart from the rest of society.

When I was about 17, I contemplated becoming a nun. Now, given that I’m not Catholic and was not raised Catholic, you might find this a somewhat interesting declaration. I had a very good male friend in my teens who I may have mentioned before, and he was pretty much my sounding board throughout my teens and college years. We have known each other since the fourth grade, so I trust his judgment, even though he was a Republican for almost forever. So when I made the statement that I thought that I might like to become a nun, his response was to raise an eyebrow and wait.

These were my reasons: Let me preface this by saying that I find the Catholic religion particularly sexist, so I really have a hard time with that part of it, which I know pretty much disqualifies me from the start, but I love the rituals of it: the incense, the candles, the kneeling, the holy water. I wish that they still said the mass in Latin, not that I understand Latin, mind you. I loved the idea of being a nun and not having to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I mean, bingo, you’re married to god, you have a vocation, your wardrobe is chosen for you, you never have a bad hair day.

Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not trying to be flippant. These really were my reasons. I was 17, and I didn’t know what to do with the rest of my life. It had nothing to do with religion. I loved the idea of being cloistered. I had not idea that I might have to teach school children or anything like that. I just wanted to be away from the rest of the world, and I didn’t know how to go about being a hermit, and I wasn’t sure if you could still actually do that, at least not in America. I knew that they still had hermits in England, or at least, I thought that they did.

My friend listened to my reasons, and then very calmly pointed out two main flaws in my plan: First, I wasn’t Catholic. And second, I wasn’t particularly religious or even spiritual at that point in my life. As he said, he thought that I needed to be at least one of those or to at least have some kind of “calling,” as he put it.

I cannot say that I was surprised. Disappointed yes, but surprised, no. It has seemed like a good idea at the time, and one that I revisited from time to time, especially when I was feeling as if I did not want to be of this world, if that makes any sense.

Over the years, I have toyed with the idea of finding a monastery to go to for an extended retreat. I have heard of one that is in the foothills of Virginia somewhere, but I have never actively looked for it. I suppose that I have never given up on the idea of the monastic retreat even if I cannot live the lifestyle full time, which, in reality, I know that I cannot. I mean, I am already pretty much of a hermit already. Since going on disability, I have retreated from the trappings of life by choice, and I cannot say that I miss it all that much.

I miss going to school and learning new concepts and new information on an ongoing basis, but my computer is my lifeline to information, and I am tapped in 24/7. When I cannot sleep, I surf. I watch MSNBC for new political information, and I watch Law & Order, Without a Trace, and CSI for my doses of crime drama. That much hasn’t changed. I still like to eat out once in a while, and I would love an occasional night out for karaoke, but other than that, the world outside my bedroom doesn’t beckon to me in the way that it used to.

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Hermit's Cave Quarry Bank Garden

If we had the money, I would still like to take a trip once a year to a new country just for the experience, but a trip to a mall? Not so much. The movies? I really resent paying $30 for tickets and drinks and popcorn when I can pay $4 on cable in a month. Now a museum? In a heartbeat, but I would need to be in a new city for that. The symphony? I would probably get out of my pajamas for that. But just going out to go out? My hermit tendencies kick in, as do my curmudgeonly feelings about people in crowded stores like Wal Mart and the like.

If I had been around in the Middle Ages, and I believe that I probably was, I think that I would have liked to have been a hermit, probably one who lived in a stick hut in the forest. That sounds about right. And my name would have been something like Leonid of Aghast and I definitely would have been a misanthrope.

I’ll get into the whole idea of reincarnation and my thoughts about past lives and Zen and Karma and getting it right in another posting. But just one parting thought on that one. Why does everyone who believes in reincarnation believe that they were someone great like Napoleon or Marie Antoinette? I mean, why isn’t anyone ever a chambermaid or a stable boy or something like that? Just a thought.

As always, there will be more later. Peace.

“Amazing Grace”

Sunday Dinner

“I Once Was Lost”

When I was a little girl, I mean really little girl, about 8, my Aunt Ronnie used to have one of those electric chord organs in her back bedroom. My Aunt Ronnie is my mother’s oldest sister and has pretty much served as my surrogate grandmother on my mother’s side. My mother was the youngest of 12 children, and Aunt Ronnie was the oldest, so there is a big age span between them, which is why I have always viewed her as my surrogate grandmother, that and the fact that she is the grandmother to all of my second cousins who are my age.

I should probably be explaining this better, so let me regress a little. When we came back to the states after being in England, we settled in Norfolk for a number of reasons, but one of the main ones was that several members of my mother’s family live in Great Bridge, which at that time, was still a pretty rural place in Chesapeake. Every Sunday, my mom and I would drive to Aunt Ronnie’s house for Sunday dinner, and I would spend the afternoon playing with my second cousins, which was a wonderful thing for me because as an only child, I wasn’t used to playing with family members my own age.

Those Sunday dinners deserve some space all their own. My Aunt Ronnie and whoever happened to be in the kitchen helping would turn out these incredible meals: roast chickens, chicken and dumplings (home made dumplings), pot roast, but the main course was always accompanied by southern style green beans, home made biscuits, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and some kind of homemade dessert, like banana pudding or an apple pie. None of it was frozen. Nothing out of a can.biscuits

I remember my first dinner—It was my first taste of southern sweet tea. I drank it down in one big gulp. Everyone looked at me as if I were some kind of weirdo, which, of course, I wasn’t. I just had never had anything as wonderful as sweet tea. Those were also the days of the kids’ table and the big table. We had great times at the kids’ table . . . until the adults remembered to look in on us. But, as usual, I digress.

My first cousins, Aunt Ronnie’s three daughters, were mostly my Mom’s age. Those Sundays were some of the best times of my childhood. Before them, I knew nothing about running wild through fall leaves, playing tag, playing hide and seek, finding toads, having sticker ball fights, getting bruises from climbing tall trees, swinging on tire swings, all of the fun things that normal children do.

In England, I had friends, and we went to the park, but it wasn’t with the same wild abandon that I had with my cousins. It was the difference between being in a city and having to be watched and being in what was still relatively untouched country neighborhoods with few cars coming down the streets. We could play in the streets, and every once in a while, one of the grown ups might yell out the front door to get a location on us, and we could hear from ten houses down. The windows were open. Everyone knew who we were. We could run through everyone’s yards, and no one really cared.

Of all of my cousins, I was probably the one who was the most scared to do things, not because I was a girlie girl, but because I didn’t know how to do a lot of the things that seemed to come second nature to them, and I knew that they would laugh at me. For example, they never could get me on a minibike. But I was one of the best at climbing trees. I wasn’t afraid to climb anything. Stick ball. Nope. I pretty much sucked at connecting any kind of bat at any kind of ball (I had bad eyes but wouldn’t admit it for years). I tried a couple of times, but decided that I liked rolling sticker balls in the mud and then playing war with them until we were cold, wet, and filthy.

“How Sweet the Sound”

Sometimes, my mom and I would go to my Aunt Ronnie’s house during the week, and none of my cousins would be around, and then it would be totally different. It would just be Mom and Aunt Ronnie sitting around drinking coffee, and I would have to amuse myself however I could. That’s when I discovered the small electric organ in the back bedroom. I think that these organs were probably popular during the 60’s. Some were small enough to sit on desks, and others were on stands. This one was on a stand, and I think that it had 18 keys on it. There were a few chords on the left. Very simplistic.

At that time, I hadn’t begun formal piano lessons. I was playing instruments by ear only. I picked out some rudimentary tunes: “Silent Night,” “Jingle Bells.” And then I found an old hymnal, and I taught myself a couple of hymns, “The Old Rugged Cross,” and “Amazing Grace.” Now, in all of the times I was in the back room playing with the organ, no one ever bothered me. They just drank their coffee, and once in a while said something about how nicely I was playing. But when I played “Amazing Grace,” I knew right away that I had done something, but I wasn’t sure if it was good or bad.

My mother came into the bedroom with this strange look on her face. I had been playing and trying to sing the words as I was singing. She asked me very quietly to stop. Of course, I wanted to know why. The only thing that she would tell me was that Aunt Ronnie didn’t like to hear that song. So I stopped, but being a child, the next chance that I got, I played “Amazing Grace” again. This time, the reaction was much stronger. My mother came stomping back to the bedroom and turned off the organ and gave me one of those looks. I got up and started reading my book, and that was that.

I never played the organ again at her house other than the occasional Christmas carol, and that was much later when the cousins were older, and by then, we were sneaking bourbon, beer, and wine into the back room. The organ was just something to play to irritate the adults with more noise. I never found out why the hymn upset my aunt so much other than a quick explanation that it reminded Aunt Ronnie of something sad.

“And Grace Will Lead Me Home”

Personally, I have always loved “Amazing Grace,” and I decided years ago that when I die, it’s one of the few things that I want played at my memorial service—on the bagpipes, of course. Because, if nothing else is true, I believe in grace, perhaps not in the most traditional sense, but grace nevertheless. And I believe that even though the child in me could not understand how a song could elicit such painful memories in my aunt, something led me to that particular song in that hymnal.

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Amazing Grace Phlox

And more than once in my life, I have been brought back to the lines “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound/that saved a wretch like me.” They have come out of nowhere, when I have least anticipated it, at times when I have most needed it. As always, my spirituality is very personal and private to me and therefore, I am not willing to say more about it, nor do I believe that this is the forum in which to do so.

But mulling over Thanksgiving dinner brought back fond memories of those really wonderful Sunday dinners with my family in a time and place long gone. Those streets are unrecognizable now. Everyone has moved on to different places. My aunt wouldn’t know me if she saw me. The tragedies of Alzheimer’s. I have third and fourth cousins who I have never seen since we stopped going to the family Christmas gatherings long ago. But it’s nice to revisit these memory sand castles that we have tucked away in long-term niches gathering dust in grey matter, if for no other reason than to know that we still can.

Enough for now. More later. Peace.