Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It's just me again!

Across the hall from me, a little boy is sleeping. Tomorrow morning he'll come into my room, touch my face gently, and say, "Hi, Gran. It's 6:30 (or whatever time it will be)." He'll climb into bed with me and we'll cuddle for a few minutes before he says, "I'm hungry."

That is how 2009 will begin for me. It is my 62nd New Year's Day. This is the year I will begin to collect Social Security, and Jim & I hope to make a long-anticipated trip to Europe this year and perhaps another trip across the US, taking a different route and seeing different things.

This is a good time of life.

We measure so much by beginnings and endings, and yet, truly, time is unimportant. Each day is a gift, each smile, each embrace, each touch of a hand - whether it's a hand marked by age or a hand still sticky with a cookie, each sunrise, each rising or sleeping, each is its own precious and special moment.

I really never make New Year's resolutions. When I was younger - a teenager - I would draw up lists of things that seemed to fill the bill for resolutions, but my heart was never in it. Beyond the vague "I really need to lose weight," it has always seemed to me that this great creation of mankind - time - is really immaterial to our lives. It drags on, it speeds by, it escapes our notice, or it becomes all we can think about. And yet all we really have is each moment.

This year, I plan to appreciate the moments. I hope I can live my days without anticipating what is to come tomorrow, without wishing away the moment I am in.

My mother used to tell me that I was wishing my life away. You know the wishes, I'm sure: I wish my birthday/Christmas/prom would hurry up and get here. I wish it was time for vacation. I wish my kids were older and I could __________.

Well, my kids are older. Adults, every one of them. And sometimes I long for those far-away times when I could hold them on my lap and listen to their dreams. The days that I muddled through in a haze, or wished away in anticipation or frustration, each of those days is gone, never to return.

I hope to look at each moment in 2009 with the eyes of a child, as a unique event that will never happen again in quite the same way. I know, even as I write this, that I will fail in this expectation; it's the way I'm made - perhaps the way each of us is made. But I'm going to try.

And so I will end 2008 secure in knowing that, across the hall, Addison is curled up with his blankie and his Winnie-the-Pooh. I will think of him and of all my grandsons - Andrew, David, Matthew, and Adin - as they embark on all the hopes, joys, disappointments, successes, and even failures of this life - and hope that they can find within themselves a lifetime of seeing the new in each day, each moment.

I wish for you, everyone, a bright and beautiful 2009, beginning with tomorrow's sunrise!

Monday, December 22, 2008

I hope I'm not boring you

Okay, I know you've probably had it with my waxing poetic over our recent "winter event" here in the Portland area, but I do hope you'll indulge one more post. Today, Jim drove to my son's house (about 12 miles away) to retrieve my daughter-in-law and grandson, saving them from another day of being housebound and to spend a few hours with adult conversation, a movie, and admiring the wildlife at the feeders in our yard.

Since Ben, Briana, and Addison are hoping to head East tomorrow to spend Christmas with Briana's family, it was a nice opportunity to have a few hours together prior to Christmas. Jim plowed his way out of the driveway, using his truck bumper as a plow, and brought my dear ones to me. After work, Ben made his way to our house and took his wife and son back home. It was a treasured interlude in a snowy, cold, and otherwise quiet day at home for just the two of us.

The worst of the storm seems to be over, although more showshowers are forecast, and temperatures are said to be on the rise. We will still have snow on the ground for Christmas (and I love the idea of that!), and the "kids" will spend the rest of the holiday in a winter wonderland on the north slope of Mt. Hood. I will miss spending Christmas with them, but know how fortunate I am to spend time with them for most of the holidays and am glad that Briana's parents and siblings will have time to be with each other for this rare snow holiday.

The photos included here show the progression of snow over the past week (December 14, 19, and 22). Our front yard decorations are flamingoes, and I've been intentional about taking photos of them to show the increasing depth of the snow. For a Florida gal, this is truly a winter treat!

Merry Christmas to all!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Let it snow!

I know that there are lots of places where snow is an annual occurrence, on levels far greater than anything I've ever seen. (Except I have been to Glacier Bay and THAT'S a lot of snow!) But here in the Pacific Northwest our usual Winter Wonderland is wet, rainy, muddy, soggy, flooded, and rainy. Oh, did I mention rain? It is much more common to worry about slipping on algae than on ice, and we're far more accustomed to tracking in fir needles than snow and ice.

But this year... Oh, this year! It's a winter wonderland around here. We've had some kind of wintry precipitation - snow, hail, freezing rain - for almost every day since Sunday, December 14th. And we've only been above freezing once or twice, when temperatures zoomed all the way up to 36 degrees!

So we're staying in. We could put chains on the truck and go to the store, but we don't need to. At our ages, need trumps want and there isn't anything at all we need. We have a good supply of wood for the woodstove, and the woodshed is only a few steps from the back door of the garage. We have plenty of food and wine, we have working indoor plumbing, we have plenty of things to read, and we have (so far) electricity to power lights, television, computers, and the stove.

Our kids, on the other hand, are doing what kids do. Of course, they are adult children, but Ben and Mike are really kids at heart and they love driving places and doing things. For them, adventure trumps comfort. They've visited friends, been sledding, went out to buy cupcakes for Addison's 3rd birthday (Happy birthday, Bubs!), and have just generally enjoyed this rare event. I love knowing that they're so adventurous, and am happy that they're young enough and healthy enough to fully appreciate this incredible weather.

Of course, being Portland, we do have our little issues. One of our news channels has pre-empted all regular programming for the past week, filling our lives with more information than anyone really needs - although I'm sure people who are heading out appreciate knowing what's going on. We're always unprepared for snow - our cities and counties don't have the equipment to handle a winter event of this magnitude, and we aren't accustomed to driving in this weather so there are lots of cautionary stories and lots of reports of cars sliding down hills and minor accidents. Unfortunately, there have also been a few deaths, most of which have resulted from unsafe behavior under the guise of "fun."

But for the most part, it's gorgeous and exciting and FUN! And for a Florida gal, it's like waking up inside a Currier & Ives painting!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Good friends and gingerbread houses - or Why Good Housekeeping Will Never Hire Me As Their Christmas Decorations Editor

It is said that you can't choose your family, but you can choose your friends. My family is pretty remarkable, if somewhat weird, and I enjoy being related to them. Once in a great while I've been lucky enough to have friends who fit right in with my family. If that's troublesome to them (and perhaps it should be!) they've managed to conceal it gracefully.

Two such friends are our neighbors, Mary and Gary. Although Mary & Gary don't have grandchildren yet, they are very indulgent of Ada and Addison, and the attraction is mutual. Addison has been known to follow them to the bathroom!

So Mary, in what was either a gesture of extreme kindness or a diabolical plot, brought two gingerbread house kits over a couple of weeks ago - one for each kiddo. All she asked was the opportunity to see the finished products. I, who had never put a gingerbread house together, was charmed by the thought. I had briefly considered getting one kit for the two of them to share, but dismissed the idea when I realized that coordinating kid visits at this time of year was going to be problematic. Mary, of course, was untroubled by the mechanics of such coordination.

So when we unexpectedly had Ada overnight last Thursday, I seized the opportunity. I knew that I would be babysitting Addison on Friday evening, and could arrive early enough that he and I could work on his house; Ada and I could decorate hers before I left.

What I learned about gingerbread houses:
  • It takes longer than the recommended 30 minutes for the walls and roof construction to set; overnight is better - and may be mandatory!
  • Gumballs do not work well as roof decoration unless an adult is willing to hold them down for 10-15 minutes EACH while the icing sets up enough to hold.
  • Gumballs DO make a good cap for the peak of the roof, but if you press down too hard, the roof will start to slide.
  • Neither gumballs nor jellybeans are recommended decoration for the sides of the house; gravity takes over even more quickly on the vertical than it does on the slope.
  • Not all kids are thrilled with sticky hands and fingers, but all of them are thrilled at the sight of unlimited bite-sized candies!
  • A gingerbread house is a good opportunity to get rid of leftover Halloween candies if you have a creative mind.
  • There's really nothing quite like the memories created when you decorate a gingerbread house with grandchildren. Some of them are even good ones!

But in the final analysis, it was fun and the kids were proud of their creations. Grandpa observed while Ada and I labored, and Addison's mommy actually got into the act and was quite creative with candy canes and mints.

So, thank you, Mary, for the gingerbread houses! I'm including pictures so you can see the finished products. It was very thoughtful of you and I can hardly wait till you and Gary have grandchildren so I can return the favor.

I'm thinking drums...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A company that has earned my loyalty

I heard a report on last night's news that I had heard before, but had forgotten. I think it bears mention on my blog and I hope that others of you will share it on your blogs as well.

Sears (formerly Sears, Roebuck) far exceeds the standards and requirements of providing for their employees who are called up to active duty in the military. In addition to holding their jobs for them, as required by law, Sears pays the difference between what they make in the military and what they earn as a Sears employee; they accrue to them all benefits - vacation time, raises, bonuses - as if they were still working for the company.

At a time when corporations are "rewarding" their employees with layoffs, Sears deserves not only our gratitude but our shopping loyalty. This is truly a company that understands that loyalty is a two-way street and one that epitomizes the spirit of this season all year long!

For more on their programs, be sure to read this. And don't forget to read about their Heroes at Home Program as well.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Trimming the Family Tree

In the 5-1/2 years Jim and I have lived together we have developed a few traditions that give us much joy and feelings of family togetherness in this grouping of individuals that we have cobbled together from broken marriages, intact marriages, births of children, and assimilation of friendships. Perhaps the most "pure fun" of these traditions is the annual decorating of our Christmas tree.

For this annual event, our respective sons and their wives and children, along with assorted in-laws and my sister and her family and a neighbor or two gather in our home to put ornaments on the tree, drink Jim's Famous Eggnog, wine, "bubble juice" for the young 'uns, the pregnant, and nursing moms; eat assorted easy-to-prepare-and-you-know-there's-going-to-be-leftovers food; engage in popping the "Crackers" that my sister and her husband bring and sharing the corny jokes inside; watching the little ones at play, and just general hilarity and memory-making activities. Yesterday was tree-trimming at our place and it was just as much fun as it always is!

This year we had the very unusual (for us) benefit of about 4" of snow, which began shortly after dawn. Because we live at the top of a small hill, Jim went out twice to serve as a guide to bring our guest safely here using back roads to avoid the dreaded "slide back down the hill" syndrome.

Ada and Addison were secure and joyous in the heart of family and friends, engagingly "clinking" their glasses of bubble juice and saying "cheers" to each other before drinking, and using toy badminton racquets as guitars. The adults ate, drank, laughed, decorated the tree, took turns hiding my wine glass (an annual event), and then chronicled it all on the blackboard in the kitchen, where it will (mostly) remain until next year.

We enjoyed a fire in the living room fireplace (seldom used, but appreciated more for its rarity), gatherings in front of the wood stove in the family room, Christmas music, and the accustomed teasing that carries over from year to year. In between times, we caught up with those we don't see as often as we'd like, and missed those who were snowed in or had made other plans.

After everyone had left, the dishes washed and food put away (I am constitutionally unable to face chaos in the morning), Jim and I enjoyed a glass of wine in the quiet warmth of our home, reliving each precious memory and being grateful for the many things we enjoy together.

I hope family and friends play a role in your Christmas preparations this year!
(You're invited to view more of the party here.)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Okay, I'm excited!

Although you wouldn't know it to look at me today, when I was a small child I was very graceful and flexible. At age 4, I was the youngest child in the "Virginia Rey and Frank Dunn School of Dance" in Tampa, and was in both tap and ballet recitals. I had big dreams of finally reaching an age where I could wear toe shoes and become a toe dancer. Unfortunately, my dad decided we needed to move to Lake Wales where the opportunities for me to break into The Big Time were decidedly limited, and so those dreams died aborning.

I have, however, always thought ballet one of the most beautiful and enchanting forms of entertainment, and yet... And yet, Dear Reader, I have never in my life seen a professional ballet!

That is on the immediate verge of changing! Tonight, this very evening, my sister and I are going into Portland to have dinner and then see The Nutcracker. Peggy has arranged for seats that will give us an astounding view and - this is truly the best part - we sisters will enjoy a purely "girly" evening of dinner and entertainment. (Not that men don't enjoy ballet! But this is for US!) I am so excited that I can hardly stand it!

Now, you might like to know that the evening's forecast for sisterly fun is accompanied by an evening forecast for snow and freezing temperatures. I know for many of you that seems like No Big Deal. However, in the 14 years I've lived in the Portland area, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times it's snowed - and that usually happens in January, not before Christmas!

Snow. The Nutcracker. An evening with my sister. As an old friend used to say, "It don't get no better than this!"

(Note: The photo above is from February, 1952, when I was 4-1/2 years old. I am the cutie front and center. Please forgive the info about the show and the costumes; it was the 50s and it was the South!)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Annual Christmas Tree Purchase

Last year, Jim & I took Addison and Ada to cut the "family tree" for Christmas and had a great time. So we thought we should make it an annual event and arranged to have both kids this afternoon. Since both toddlers are now in preschool, and both Jim & Addison are moderately ill (I'm just barely recovered), and with the cold weather and the early onset of dark... well, let's just say a trip to the tree farm wasn't in the picture for us. So we went to a local stand where organic produces is sold year 'round and where the trees come direct from the farm and made our purchase.

The kids didn't give a hoot that it wasn't a "real" tree farm - they explored and played and just generally had fun. After we took the tree home to put in water until Sunday's tree-trimming event, we went out to dinner - but not before Ada and Addison played "Tackle Grandpa" for about ten minutes and spent some time on their rocking moose and rocking horse.

(Prior to getting the tree, we kept them occupied with "Little Bear" on t.v. If you have a toddler and don't know about "Little Bear," you're missing a good chance to garner a little free time for yourself! There are some episodes on YouTube and it also runs on a cable channel called "Noggin." Just be careful with YouTube - there are idiots out there who will sexualize anything they can!)

We then went out for dinner - when we have Ada, dinner is always Mac & cheese. The girl really loves it! Afterwards, we looked at the lights, then I brought Addison home to bed and Ada stayed with Grandpa. She'll be with us overnight tonight and we'll see the local family on Sunday for tree decorating.

I love the memories we create with these two - memories for us and for them.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The times they are a' changin'

As with most couples, Jim and I have routines that we cherish. You know - those simple, not-a-big-deal kinds of things that you miss when your partner's not around and that you look forward to even if you don't always realize it.

One of our simple pleasures is the morning paper. By the time I arrive downstairs in the morning, Jim has usually been up for an hour, the coffee is ready to brew, the morning news is on, the fire is burning in the woodstove, and Jim is in the early clues of the daily crossword puzzle. For the next hour-and-a-half or so, we drink coffee, read the paper and pay attention to the weather forecast. We also occasionally get updates from t.v. on news stories and make random guesses at the answer to the daily question.

Neither of us is an avid sports fan, so that section of the newspaper almost always gets short shrift. Jim isn't crazy about human interest stories, while I devour them along with all the local news. I usually just skim the news from Far Away Places With Strange-Sounding Names, but Jim stays current on all the international events. We both love the editorial pages, the comics, and The Edge.

Throughout this very special time, one of us will interrupt the other's reading with a tidbit that we think might be of particular interest, or if we recognize a name. Sometimes the news will elicit a bit of personal history from one or the other of us. In short, our morning news is a shared activity. Some days there's so much sharing that it takes a couple of hours to get through the paper; other days there's so little of interest that we're done in an hour. Whichever it is, it's shared, special time that means a lot to both of us.

But I think it's going away.

The newspaper is getting smaller (except for the Christmas ads!), and more and more often there is a teaser, followed by "for the rest of the story, logon to ." Now I have to point out that I am no technophobe. I love computers. I've built them, repaired them, upgraded them; I've written programs, been a beta tester, and designed and published web pages. I've been on the internet since before there were graphics. When I'm not reading, I can frequently be found with my laptop - well, in my lap! And I read the occasional news story, forwarding interesting tidbits to the people in my life.

But it's a solitary activity, not shared in the sense of reading a newspaper together. And sometimes I want to read more of the story, but not badly enough to drag my laptop downstairs. And by the time I've finished the paper, I'm usually not in the mood to look up some story that briefly caught my interest - I have things to do!

I know that a lot of people enjoy getting their news online, and more and more people choose to not subscribe to a daily newspaper. I understand that the costs of ink, paper, labor, and production are all reaching prohibitive levels and that newspapers are looking at more cost-effective ways to disseminate information. I'm just sorry that this time-honored tradition of news is falling out of favor, and that it will soon fall by the wayside.

I used to think that it wouldn't happen in my lifetime, but I'm slowly coming to accept that it's going to happen a lot sooner than I'd like. I think "USA Today" will soon be the only way to get our news in print, and I think that's too bad. I love the feel of the paper in my hands. I love the unexpected surprises I sometimes get from stories I probably would have missed online. I love the activity of reading something I can fold up and swat a fly with or balance on my knees while I eat a bowl of cereal.

Somehow, I just don't get that same feeling from a computer!