Tag Archives: Holidays

Christmas card count

You might have heard of Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count. For 119 years, birders all over North and South America have traveled specific routes between December 14 and January 5 counting every bird they see or hear and reporting their findings.

Well, I’m starting an annual Christmas card count. Birders watch the rise and fall of avian populations, and I’m interested in the demise of paper greetings.

Sending good wishes for Christmas via printed greeting cards has been a tradition since the mid 19th century, if Wikipedia can be believed. I’ve been sending them in some form for most of my adult life; in the past decade, mine have been mini-gifts of good wishes, pictures and stories packaged in beautiful paper, sometimes preprinted envelopes, thoughtfully selected stamps and, if I’m really on top of my game, envelope seals. My Christmas cards are a production, and it’s one Christmas tradition I adore.

Holiday baking? I’m more of a critic than a participant anymore.

Decorating the tree? Meh.

Wrapping gifts? Oh, I wish I had the enthusiasm for Scotch tape that I have for postage stamps.

When it comes to Christmas cards, I enjoy planning them, creating them and sending them, and then I relish in receiving them. I sit down with a cup of coffee and no distractions, reading my pile of cards and letters each day during the season.

But since the advent of Facebook among us Baby Boomers and Generation X, my incoming Christmas cards have noticeably decreased. Few Millennials have ever sent Christmas cards (they don’t even know what a checkbook register is! who has time for mailing paper cards?), but I see Generation Xers now actively abandoning the tradition because they keep in touch through the year with the people they care about via Facebook (and maybe Twitter, Instagram, blogs or some other social media outlet). They don’t need greeting cards and long newsy letters to share the highlights of the year. They already know who had babies, who lost their family pets, who got new jobs and bought new houses and where everyone vacationed.

Even I struggled a bit this year to provide new news. I documented my every move regarding the renovation of my new old house via a blog (and Facebook). What else is there? Well, I found some “news,” but I kept it brief. I think other people who share a lot less information online than I do have found the exercise of Christmas cards to be superfluous (also, probably, expensive and time-consuming, but honestly, I don’t think sending Christmas cards has ever been particularly cheap or easy).

I live in a small town now where the annual community parade this past summer lasted 12 minutes (I timed it). That’s how my incoming Christmas cards are now: Short, sweet and to-the-point. The best cards I received included a personal hand-written note, which I appreciated so much, I know I need to do more of this.

christmas cards

During Christmastime, I display my cards and letters. Here is the pile now for me to savor again.

Here’s my count: I sent 65 personal cards this year (plus 50 for my husband’s business). Two of my cards were returned (“address unknown; no such number, no such zone”). And I received 33 cards.

One of my dear friends wrote in her Christmas letter, “I adore the month of December and all the things leading up to the celebration of Christmas–but nothing more than getting cards in the mailbox. First, a huge thank you to everyone who has not given up on this delightful tradition. Christmas cards are the Joy of the season!”

Hear, hear! I couldn’t agree more. If you didn’t send me a Christmas card, that’s OK. I like sending mine to you enough that I don’t require reciprocation. But if you sent me a Christmas card, thank you! I read every one of them, enjoyed hearing from you and I’m still thinking good thoughts about you and your good wishes. Thank you.

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A jar full of intentions

It’s the first day of a whole new year, a whole new chance to make good on the potential endowed to me by the Creator. I love a clean slate.

Regular readers know I am a resolutions junkie. I make New Year’s Resolutions every year, and some years they even have themes. One year it was “make room.” Another year, I resolved to “let go.” Once, I resolved to “connect.” Last year, my unofficial theme was “build it” and I did—I built a house. Not by myself, mind you, but I helped build an old church into our home.

Like everyone else, I struggle sometimes accomplishing the goals I set for myself, but I believe in the motto, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land on the roof.”

This year, I’m using a visual reminder of the habits I want to cultivate. I’m resolving to blog regularly, sort through all the folders of digital data on my computer, go to yoga class and church services regularly and read more books. In general, I want to be more mindful—of the present and of all my digital and actual stuff.

resolution jars

I cut up and counted the requisite slips of paper, colored-coded by task, and put them in one antique Ball jar. Every time I manage to write a blog post or whatever, I’ll pull out a slip of paper, date it and drop it into the second jar, labeled “2019.” Theoretically, at the end of the year, the first jar will be empty, the second jar will be full, and I will have written and read thousands of words, dumped a few dozens gigabytes, and be more flexible and spiritually aware.

(I’m also resolving to check a few one-time-only items off my list—chief among them to get a colonoscopy and retrieve a dozen bins of photos and albums stashed two years ago at my parents’ house—but I only need a list for those. I dropped the list in the first jar, too, as a visual reminder of my goals.)

So there you have it, a new year, a whole lot of potential and some mindful intentions. Here’s to dropping a white slip of paper—my first blog post of the year—into my 2019 jar. And here’s to wishing you a wonderful, well-lived year, too.

Happy new year!

The joke, er, goat’s on you

April Fools’ Day is a major holiday on my father’s side of the family. My 102-year-old grandmother used to love playing April Fool’s jokes, and my dad loves to tease people.

I inherited 20-some years of my grandmother’s diaries when she moved into a nursing home two years ago, so I dug through her April 1st entries in search of proof of her foolishness. Among entries about lunch, ironing, quilting and visitors, she rarely failed to note it was April Fools’ Day, though in 1998 when 7 inches of snow fell and 2009 when 11-12 inches fell, the weather trumped all fun.

I should mention that Grandma lives in north central Minnesota, where winter is six months long if it’s a day.

In the ’80s, April Fools’ Day was mentioned frequently with her brother-in-law’s birthday.

1985: “April Fools’ Day and Odin’s birthday. We celebrated his birthday with the neighbors coming, too. It was a very nice afternoon.”

In other years, she only mentioned who she fooled, not how. In 1986, it was my cousin Cheri (Grandma’s oldest grandchild). In 1991 and 1993, it was her friend Clarine. In 1992: “It was quiet although I did fool a few after church when we were having soup.” In 2004, she mentions she fooled her niece, Virginia.

In 1996, the lack of fooling got noted: “Cloudy cool day. I didn’t do any April fooling.”

But when Grandma does bother to go into detail about the day’s foolishness, I just have to chuckle.

1991: “April Fools’ … Was a nice day. The New Horizon had a goat they would deliver for $10. Mary called to have one delivered to both Jim & Wally. They blame me for telling Mary.”

Mary is my Aunt Mary, and Jim and Wally are her brothers, two of Grandma’s three sons. Uncle Wally passed away last year, but this joke reminds me of his sense of humor (and is proof of the foolishness on this side of the family!). He and Grandma exchanged pranks regularly:

1994: “April Fools’. I fooled Wally with a letter. It makes me happy. I did get him!”

1995: “April Fools’. Wally planned to fool me so I locked the garage door. He was here but couldn’t get in.”

1997: “April Fools’ Day. I never fooled anyone. Wally came when I was gone and put the bench on top of the car.”

 

For me, I think April Fool’s jokes are most funny when they’re played on someone else. When someone pulls a joke on me, well, not so much.

Researchers have found apes laugh, dogs laugh and babies laugh before they learn any other language. Laughter is pretty much the same across languages, and it has the same cadence for everyone — if you “ha, ha, ha” too fast or too slow, it’s panting or, er, something else.

So, laughter is like sleep. We all do it instinctively, and no one really knows why. Maybe it’s God’s joke. In any case, a good laugh is good for the soul, which may explain Grandma’s longevity.

May your day be filled with laughter.

The recipe for a Thankgiving prayer that rocks

Stood in line with your 17-pound turkey at the grocery store? Looked up the recipe for green bean casserole? Hauled up your extra chairs from the basement?

I hope, at this point on Thanksgiving week, you’ve done all this and started thawing your turkey in the fridge at least three days ago.

 

I’ve done all these things in anticipation of the nine people I expect to gather around my Thanksgiving table tomorrow. And now I’m thinking about the purpose of the day.

If you have any interest in praying or God at all, you surely must say a prayer at Thanksgiving. It is, after all, a holiday about giving thanks. Even if you’re not the sort to thank a god, a verbal message of thanks for all to hear is good for, well if not your soul, then your well-being. Gratitude is good.

Have you given any thought to the blessing you want to share around the table? A lot of books and Bibles have perfectly acceptable prayers to say together, if you like, but I like personalizing the prayer. Here’s an outline:

  • Thank the people who gather around your table. Missing someone? Remember them.
  • Acknowledge the sources of your meal (and be thankful you didn’t have to make the ultimate sacrifice).
  • Thank the cooks who prepared the food and, be proactive, thank the people who will help clean up.
  • If you’re spiritual, here’s where you can thank God (in whatever form He or She takes for you).
  • Wrap it up. Amen is a good word. I once heard it meant “I can put my tent stake in that,” which is a powerful statement from a culture of nomads who preferred driving camels to driving tent stakes. Choosing to stay in one place was against their nature, so “I can put my tent stake in that” was a real statement of certainty and approval.

Here’s how it might look:

Before we dive in, let’s take a moment to give thanks. [Hold hands or bow your heads or whatever works in your tribe.] We are thankful to be together around this table on this Thanksgiving Day. We are missing Uncle Wally but we’re thinking of him fondly. We are thankful for the rain and sunshine required to grow this abundance of food and we’re thankful to the turkey who made the ultimate sacrifice to create our table centerpiece. We are thankful to the cooks who toiled to prepare this amazing meal (especially Nina for the pies) and we are thankful to the servant-hearted guests who will help clean it all up later. And finally, we are thankful to God in heaven who makes all these blessings possible. Thanks be to God. Amen.

It doesn’t have to rhyme, it doesn’t have to be recited perfectly and it doesn’t have to be long. Good luck. Have a grateful day.

When cake means more than flour, sugar, eggs and butter

If I knew you were comin’,
I’d have baked a cake,
baked a cake, baked a cake.

~ Lyrics by Al Hoffman, Albert J. Trace & Bob Merrill

Not long ago, we met a couple for dinner. We were in Dallas, and my Beloved wanted to show his appreciation for a colleague by buying dinner. Which he did, and it was delicious, and our guests were great company.

But before the evening was over, the wife of the couple insisted on inviting us back to their house for dessert. She’d made a cake.

It struck me as a distinctly Southern gesture — to bake a cake for company. An elaborate, over-the-top expression of hospitality.

We northerners, we put the coffee pot on for guests. We make cake for birthdays and holidays, but plain ol’, run-of-the-mill visitors? Fresh coffee, for sure. Cookies, maybe. But not cake. Too much trouble. Only impeccable Southerners who iron the sheets for the guest bed and decorate their coffee tables would make a cake on a Tuesday.

But the sentiment stuck with me. The woman in Dallas made me feel special by baking a cake. Just for us. So I privately pledged to put my baking skills to the test more often as a way of expressing my appreciation for someone I love. And I’ve had the opportunity twice in as many weeks.

When my dear mother turned 75 in April, I made her a chocolate peanut butter bundt cake. I was nervous as I prepared the batter because one gets only one chance to make a 75th birthday cake for one’s mother. But not to worry — it looked as beautiful as it turned out to be delicious. And she felt special.

Bundt cake

And yesterday, to celebrate Mother’s Day, I served my mother-in-law a slice of perfect pound cake, topped with macerated strawberries and real whipped cream, also known as strawberry shortcake.

strawberry shortcake

I was particularly proud of my pound cake because remembered the disaster of Crusty Cream Cheese Pound Cake I had attempted to make seven years ago for my Beloved. Yesterday’s pound cake was a success, thank goodness (and Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook with the traditional red gingham cover).

To be fair, one opportunity to make cake was for a birthday and one was for a holiday so I still haven’t mastered the hospitality act of the plain-ol’-Tuesday cake, but I did accomplish my goal of making special people — in this case, two of the most special people in my life — feel special.

Happy Mother’s Day, dear Mother and mother-in-law. You deserve far more than cake, but the cakes I made were mixed not only with flour and sugar, but good intentions and great appreciation.

Plethora of holidays punctuate the winter blahs

Just when the doldrums of winter have your head in a vice like an alligator’s fanged mouth, along comes February with fun around every corner of the calendar.

[How’s that for a Pandora’s box of metaphors?]

Only fun gets a native Minnesotan through a month like this (though sun doesn’t hurt).

Tomorrow it’s Super Bowl Sunday. Not a holiday exactly, but it comes with parties, special food, decorations, music and costumes. Sounds like a holiday to me! I watch the Super Bowl for the commercials, so even for the football fans who are eh, meh, about Broncos and Panthers, there’s something to enjoy.

Monday, we celebrate Chinese New Year. I’m not Chinese, but I like egg rolls and green tea, so what’s not to celebrate? It’s the year of the Monkey, and I’m going to observe it with a banana for breakfast and a take-out meal at Panda Express.

It’s Fat Tuesday on Tuesday, the last big party of Mardi Gras. Celebrants whoop it up on this, the last day before we begin denying ourselves for Lent. Thaw the slab of beef in the freezer and uncork the Zinfandel — time to indulge.

Christians the world over, especially Catholics, observe Ash Wednesday on Feb. 10 this year. Lent is the season of preparation for Easter, during which we repent of our sins and remind ourselves of our mortality (ashes are the symbol of the dust from which we came and to which we return). A consciousness of death is not a curse, but a blessing because we are reminded to be grateful for the life we have. Pious adherents will give up something (like meat or some other indulgence) until Easter Sunday, a daily reminder to be grateful for thick steaks and wine.

Take a breath at the end of the week, and then celebrate Valentine’s Day on Sunday. Where would we be without lovers?

It’s President’s Day on Feb. 15 when Americans observe the birthdays of two our greatest presidents, George Washington, who presided over the beginning of the United States, and Abraham Lincoln, who managed to keep the union together with the Civil War. During a presidential election year when we tend to be unhappy with all our choices, it’s gratifying to remember particularly memorable presidents.

Speaking of presidential elections, I feel like it’s a holiday every time there’s a debate or a primary. I’m a political science major, after all. Pop up some popcorn and turn on the TV! (Debates this month are tonight, Feb. 11, Feb. 13 and Feb. 25; primaries this month are Tuesday, Feb. 20, Feb. 23 and Feb. 27.)

I feel the same way about the Academy Awards (mark your calendar — Feb. 28). My guilty pleasure is watching the fashion police as the stars waltz into the theater and then watching celebrities cry and say nice things about each other (you can’t beat the Original Song performances either).

And then, of course, we celebrate an extra day this year. Feb. 29 comes but once every four years. Minnesotans would prefer the extra day fall in say, June, but beggars can’t be choosers. Some people would give anything for an extra day.

Cheers!

Blessings of liberty

sparkler

I celebrate this Independence Day for the following reasons:

  • Because the government–not the guy living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, not the Congress, not the Supreme Court and certainly not the disagreeable leaders ruling my state of residence in Springfield–can’t tell me what to believe.
  • Because people–even the stupid ones and the ones I disagree with–have the freedom to criticize their government.
  • Because I can drive across this great country of ours on an interstate highway system that, though it is rife with road construction in the hot months of summer and most of the rest of the time, does a fine job of getting me there, wherever there is.
  • Because no matter how many men and women throw their hats into the ring to run for president of the United States (what are we up to now? 28 declared Republicans, 15 Democrats–yes, 15! look it up! and you thought there was just one–and a slew of third-party candidates), I have no fear that any of them (even Donald Trump) will take the post by force and violence. I–a woman! imagine that!–will get to vote, and they will abide by the vote of the people.
  • Because, in most circumstances Guantanamo Bay notwithstanding, evildoers will be tried by juries of their peers (even some who would have preferred to have been excused rather than sitting in court observing bickering attorneys), not judged and executed amid a shroud of secrecy.
  • Because sane, law-abiding citizens have the right to bear arms, and the crazy ones will be tried by those aforementioned juries.
  • Because young men and women willingly go to war to protect these freedoms.

A lot of things seem like they are broken in our system of government and our society today, but I remain grateful for a system that aims for “a more perfect Union,” [emphasis mine] one that gives me the opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Here’s to pursuing happiness! Happy Fourth of July!