Ordinary Times and Travels: PNW Christmas, post 6

The last couple of days have been quiet, marked by only a few happenings, and one big non-happening.

Sylvia, the Airstream, did not come on Saturday as scheduled. The dealer decided he had something more important to do on Christmas Eve day. Imagine that. We are still hoping for some day next week, before I have to leave. I want to be here to welcome the new addition. Esther has named it Sylvia Plath after one of her favorite poets (Aaack! I’ve been edited. It’s Sylvia Path, because it’s wittier.). She is having fun thinking about upholstery fabric for the cushions and other upgrades she wants to make inside. Did you know that refurbishing older Airstreams is a trend these days? It goes along with the tiny house movement, and glamping. Like other trendy movements, you can find books and blogs and videos about how to do it.

What did arrive on Saturday was our Amazon Fresh order. A little before 8 the large green truck came down our street and stopped several houses away. I was up, dressed, waiting for it so I came out to flag down the driver. Esther does not have her house numbers up since her paint job this summer and I figured he might have trouble. He brought the two coolers and two paper grocery bags to the door. I asked him if he liked his job with Amazon and he didn’t actually say yes or no, but he didn’t complain, and he did smile. He said he would have to wait a few minutes to leave because our delivery wasn’t scheduled until 8 and they track him with GPS.

Unloading the groceries in the house, I marveled at how carefully they were packaged. Delicate fruits were wrapped and bagged separately. The coolers with the vegetables were packed with ice, and the one with the ground meat had dry ice. Everything was in good condition, and there were instructions on recycling all the packaging. Someone did all this work for us (more carefully than I ever would have) and it was delivered to our door in less than a day at a price that was not noticeably more than if we had gone to the store ourselves. How can they do this? I don’t know.

I did a lot of cooking that day, trying out a couple Paleo recipes. I liked them both and Esther like one of them – the one without meat, of course.  It’s called “Nomato Sauce” because it has no tomatoes, but is used like tomato sauce. Tomatoes are one of the eliminated foods, that commonly cause inflammation (nightshade family – even sounds deadly, right?) It’s a beautiful colored sauce because it is made with beets and carrots. This combination even tastes a bit like tomatoes and that really surprised me.

Last night we made a fire in the fireplace and watched National Lampoon: Family Christmas (I  know, I know…). It was a different kind of Christmas Eve than I normally have, but it was good. Good to be with a daughter, in safety, in pleasant surroundings. I always have mixed feelings about Christmas celebration, not because the birth of Jesus wasn’t a thing worthy of celebration, but because we’ve made it to be so not about that. We’ve combined so many other traditions and stories that it’s a holiday for everyone, even if they don’t know anything about Christ. Why don’t we just have a winter holiday with pretty lights and presents and celebrate Jesus’ birthday some other time, like in the fall when it probably really happened?

Christmas Day was also quiet, except for the early morning call from the husband that the septic system was backed up again. Really?! On Christmas Day?! He got to work and the crisis was short lived, but I have to thank him for sharing it with me.

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Youngest daughter, Esther, photo bombing…

We took an evening walk, bundled up in every way possible. I had to gawk at the male runner who passed us with shorts and no shirt on in 35 degree weather. Seattle has its own brand of craziness. Later tonight, we plan to visit a church where a men’s chorus regularly gives performances. This is also reported to be a bit different from the norm, in that people bring blankets to wrap themselves in and hot drinks to sip while taking in the concert, inside the church. I am glad that life is interesting. I am happy to be in Seattle. I am happy. Hope you are too, Merry Christmas.

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Puget Sound. I love these soft, sad colors.

If I Really Want To…

I was listening as my friends were talking about Christmas. “Have you been able to slow down and enjoy the season?” was the question. Amid various reasons why it had not been possible or only momentarily possible I detected this mixture of wanting to slow down and yet not.  I mean isn’t Christmas always like this – too many things we love to do and we must race to get it all done?  I was almost afraid they would ask me if I was ready, and they did.  I would have been content to listen, but they asked.

“I haven’t done any shopping for gifts.  I’m allergic to stores during this season.”  I then went on to explain that I have had some traditional Christmases but I’ve also not “kept” Christmas for many years.  It can be done, even if you’re a Christian.  If I really want to slow down, I know how to do it.  Unfortunately, I felt like I’d thrown a wet blanket on a lovely fire and the conversation ended feeling uncomfortable (hello Scrooge). I think I can understand that people don’t really want to hear that the season is not about all that busy-ness that they claim to struggle with.

You know how ideas, culture, custom can kind of take on a life of their own? The idea of what Christmas is begins to be pushed on us in October actually.  It’s purely a marketing ploy brought on by the custom of gift giving.  People like to get gifts and give them as well (but especially the getting). By November everyone is talking about programs, their holiday schedules, their travel plans.  By December it’s all in full swing, and the non-stop Christmas music starts, the decorations, the baking, the parties.  If you have been raised in this culture, not doing all these things leaves a very obvious, gaping hole in your December experience.  You have built a large backlog of Christmas memories and a hefty expectation of what future Christmases should be.

And you are ripe for disappointment.

Expectations can be hard to fulfill.  When the finances aren’t adequate, when illness or death interferes, when family can’t or doesn’t want to show up, when everything doesn’t turn out picture perfect, when the stress of it all makes you start to wonder “why do I do this?”…

Back to the conversation with my friends – I did not mean to introduce a spirit of judgment on them for celebrating and I hope that is not what they were feeling.  I see where they are coming from and I have heard them speak their heart.  They know what Christmas is really about.

I won’t accept a spirit of judgment for myself either.  It is fairly common knowledge among Christians that December probably wasn’t when the birth of Christ took place and that most of the customs of modern Christmas have been added for various reasons, not all of them holy.  And I can take comfort in knowing that I am doing everything Christ asked to be done for his birthday.

 I am being thankful for it.

Every day.   

If it’s really about Christ and what his coming means for me, I don’t have to worry about Christmas being disappointing.  If it’s really about his plan to make a way for me to have a relationship with God then I don’t have to worry about being lonely during the holiday.  If I know he’s provided a way to make things new for me, I don’t have to worry about things being perfect now.  If I know he loves me, I don’t have to experience the hollowness or the ache of unmet expectations.

The story of Jesus’s birth is beautiful, amazing, mysterious, something only God would do, and I love it.  I sing the songs about Bethlehem and the angels and Mary and Joseph and Jesus.  I feel loved and I feel loving. I’m just saying that it can be about Jesus, not just on December 25th but every day, and I (or you) can slow down and enjoy that fact – if I really want to.

Santa’s White Christmas

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Lately I’ve been thinking about too many things that make me cry.
Syria,
my immobile car, my sick quadriplegic friend,
my missed deadlines, my unkept promises, the world, my indecision,
other people’s problems, a touch of loneliness,
the economy, occasional holiday self-pity,
things I’m longing for,
things I’m waiting for,
the grocery store checker who was sharp with me,
the things I can’t afford,
Syria again, Cambodia, China,
and more…

I hate to think ‘cause I just know I’m going to cry and my head is getting tired of crying.

Normally when I feel like this I put my hands in warm, soapy water and feel better immediately (washing dishes – try it, it works). Today there were no dirty dishes so I decided to cook something for supper instead. This was not the best idea for someone who has been crying a lot.

First, there is the problem of finding something to cook. What I needed to cook was the large bag of collard greens that had been keeping cool for, oh, maybe a week. I’m a Yankee girl and I know almost nothing about collards. I bought them because I know they’re nutritious and I should eat them. So I put them in the pan and turned up the heat, then started looking for a recipe. That is not the right order.

After the collards burned, I found just the right recipe. Collard soufflé. I had all the ingredients, in a manner of speaking. What that means is that I don’t have several of the ingredients but I have something I think will pass as a substitute. Recipes are for people who live in a grocery store and have a lot of weird things on hand. I only have whipping cream when there’s pumpkin pie to go with it. I never have Jarlsberg cheese. Fresh bread crumbs, is there such a thing? I had eggs, and collards so I went with it.

The mixture looked very soufflé-ish, which was encouraging, so I poured it in the soufflé pan. Well, I mean I poured it in the spring form pan which I thought was probably the size of a soufflé pan. Those spring form pans really aren’t liquid tight so of course the egg and milk started running out the bottom all over the stove top. Fortunately, I had a pan of boiling water ready in the oven to set it in. Evidently that is the way soufflés are cooked. We’ll find out. I’m afraid.

But I’m not going to cry. While rummaging in the freezer for something to cook I found an opened bag of Santa’s White Christmas coffee from 2009. I think this is the year to finish it off and I’m going to make some right now. I’m not going to cry. I’m just sayin’…

A Christmas Conversation

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The neighbor girl, age 8, came past today as I was mowing the lawn and since I hadn’t seen her for a couple of weeks I stopped the tractor for a chat.  I asked her how she was and it led to a conversation that went something like this…

“So how have you been lately?”

“Great, my school had a “one”derful Christmas thing and my mom gave me $20 to spend. I got all my shopping done for my whole family. Everything was one dollar.” She named off her five family members that she had bought for and confessed that she had spent most of the remaining money on herself.

“What do you think this whole Christmas thing is about?” I asked.

After a bit of thinking she explained that it was the birthday of Jesus.

“So isn’t it kind of weird that we give presents to everybody else on Jesus’ birthday?”

“Well, not really,” she said. “ It’s Jesus’ birthday but lots of people just don’t care and they want presents because it’s fun to get them. I really believe in Santa.”

“Oh yeah? You mean he’s a real person? What does he do?”

“He gives presents to kids when their parents can’t get them anything, so they can have fun too.”

“And he wears the red suit and the cap and all?”

“Yes, and he comes down the chimney.  I saw the reindeer too once.”

“What do you think about all the other people who dress up like him and say they’re Santa?”

“They’re fake.”

“So, he must be pretty skinny if he fits down peoples’ chimneys?”

“No, he eat cookies at everybody’s house.”

“Oh, so he’s fat. Isn’t that a problem?”

She wasn’t used to being grilled on her Santa knowledge and by this time she was getting at a loss for words and frustrated with me.  “Santa is magic, that’s how he gets in.”  This was followed by an expose about her dad who had played a trick on her a couple years ago, saying he was teleported into their house, when really he had snuck around through the back door.  “Now he tells me!” she says, rolling her eyes and explaining that Santa is different, magic.

“And does Santa get stuff for you?”

“Yes, three or four things and he puts them under the tree.  My dad said he quit getting presents when he was four, and I said, why would you quit getting presents?! But his family didn’t keep Christmas after that and they didn’t have a tree.”

“What? If you don’t have a tree he doesn’t leave any presents?”

“Well, he has to have a tree. I have a friend who has little Christmas trees  in three different rooms and Santa left presents under every tree.  My mom tells him what she’s getting me so he knows to get different stuff. “

“How does she tell him?”

“She has his number. She calls him.”

“Well, I have to get back to mowing the lawn, and you probably have something to do too.”

“Yeah, see ya.”

And so ended our conversation.  I was so fascinated at the intricacy of the fabrication she had constructed that I didn’t even attempt to address the reality of Santa.  Her parents had put some time and trouble into reinforcing  the story and although I had started a relationship with her, I didn’t feel it was my place to break the news.  Perhaps I should have given her more to think about, and maybe I will the next time I see her.  How does one begin to tell the real, deeper story?

I couldn’t help but think, as I rode around on the mower, how much effort we put into various distractions on the Christmas theme – time to decorate, time to bake, shop, party. It has to leave the birthday boy feeling a little left out, if it’s really his birthday.  Something to think about.,,

photo credit: laursifer via photopin cc