Thankful Thoughts and Christmas Memories

As Christmas is coming on fast, I can’t help but think of not only Christmases past, but what exactly Christmas means. For me it’s a time of remembrance with a small side dish of sorrow that my family of the past has gone on. However, my family of the here-and-now also includes friends who are very dear to me. We are a family of sorts, kind of like the wonderful Hawaiian way of “*ohana.”

Life is change. Christmases change. People change. But love and kindness and joy and happiness go on forever. Our little holiday rituals stay with us, and we enjoy the time we have together. For example, I make my grandmother’s famous seafood chowder each Christmas; one pot for my brother-in-law and his wife (my best friend), one pot for our grandgirls and their parents up in Maine, and one for us. Doing this brings back the memories of Christmases past with my grandparents.

As old as I am, I can still feel the thrill of Christmas only a few days away. As a child, I would always stay overnight on Christmas Eve with my grandparents. My parents and I would have enjoyed my grandmother’s chowder and her homemade watermelon pickles, always followed by a fabulous dessert. After a few hours, my parents would kiss me goodnight and go back home.

I would have neglected to have brought a nightgown, so my grandmother would lend me one of her billowing pink flannel ones. After washing up, she would send me upstairs to the “pink room” (the walls and ceiling were a beautiful pale pink, as were the bed clothes and blankets. I loved it.) along with a glass of milk and a plate of her cookies. (Christmas Eve meant that I could forego brushing my teeth.)

At last, settled in the warm bed, munching cookies and reading a good book, I would feel like a princess tucked away in her tower. I always kept the window open a crack so that I could smell the cold air, and listen for Santa’s sleighbells. When I got good and sleepy, I would put up my book, and turn the light out. The cold smell of snow and pine trees were the very scent of Christmas.

I was warm and sleepy, full of cookies, my mind twirling about what Christmas morning would bring. As I drifted off to sleep, I swear that I could hear those magical bells ringing from far, far away. Santa was on his way, and I was on my way to sleep.

Christmas memories are a gift. Christmas Eve is still magical for me. I hope that it always will be. I hope that Christmas will be magical for us all.

*As was said so well in the delightful movie, Lilo and Stitch; “ohana means family; it means that no one gets left behind.”

The Grace of Kindness and More

Here are some things I’ve learned over the years:

  • A small act of kindness can banish hurt and helplessness
  • A smile can start another smile
  • A good deed makes the world a sweeter place
  • One hand holding another is a bond of peace
  • A “thank you” is a gift
  • Laughter is contagious
  • Love comes in many forms
  • Attitudes can change in a heartbeat
  • Compassion is stronger than iron
  • Asking the best from ourselves is worth the effort
  • Letting go of anger clears the mind and heart
  • True joy is always around us, even if we don’t always see it
  • Being forgiven is a grace
  • Tears show that we are made of love, not steel
  • A gift given is a blessing to the recipient and the giver
  • A pennys-worth of kindness is worth more than a bushel of dollar bills
  • There are angels who walk among us
  • Looking forward is easier than looking back
  • When we can be peaceful with ourselves, we can be peaceful with others
  • Miracles are everywhere; you just have to look

…and as we live, we discover more things that make us better and happier. In this time of holiday hustle and bustle, let’s not forget the reason for the season. Although we are fallible humans, works-in-progress, we are worthy of love and being loved. Let’s live our lives with love and passion and kindness.

In the all-too-brief time that my dad was living with us, we had some good talks. I once asked him what he thought Heaven was like. His reply: “I believe that it’s all love; love everywhere.”

I believe that he was right.

“Adulting 101”

Yes, seriously: “Adulting 101” is now a thing. Evidently the lack of parenting skills these days have, like stray chickens; come home to roost. Us hoary old Baby Boomers were raised by parents who taught us at an early age how to manage money, how to care for our things, how to wash our clothes, how to cook and clean, how to keep a garden, how to respect our elders, how to be mannerly, how to clean up our own messes, and so on.

When I was nine years old, my father taught me how to set up and start a camp fire and how to put it out responsibly. On the same day, he taught me how to use a jacknife without hurting myself, and how to change a tire.

Of course, I didn’t want to learn these things and I asked my dad why I had to. His answer was simple and succinct: “you need to learn how to do these things because you can’t always rely on someone else to do them for you.” Even then I got it. Oh, believe me, I didn’t like learning these skills, but I did see his point. As an adult, I am gratefulfor those lessons.

In my own unasked-for opinion, I don’t think that, as a rule, true parenting is happening anymore. It is bothersome to see that we seem to have developed an “everybody wins” environment for kids. That just isn’t reality, and the world will not treat these kids kindly if they are not prepared for living on their own.

When schools dropped Home Economics and Shop, it was a real shame. Home Ec, as we called it, taught us how to budget, how to cook, how to sew, how to bake and even make jam from scratch. The boys took Shop, and often found that they actually were good at it. For those boys who hadn’t really been good at anything prior to that, it was a big boost to their egos. Often boys who took Shop decided to go into the trades. These two classes used to be standards. I think that kids are missing out because schools don’t have these classes any longer.

Does anyone remember the movie “*To Sir With Love?” In it, Mark Thackeray (Sidney Poitier) quickly realized that the kids in his classroom needed far more than the standard class work. They needed “life skills” training as well. So in addition to his regular classes, he taught his students how to cook, manage money, write checks, etc.

Life skills are what get us through life. As a young girl, I absolutely hated the chores that my mother gave me, especially vacuuming (and to this day, I despise it still). There were many times that I had to vacuum the house twice or three times because it didn’t pass Mom’s approval. I soon learned to do it right the first time.

When I got my first paying job at 15 years old, Mom showed me how to count change. Of course, I griped about learning that, too. But as Mom said, I had to learn to do it because my boss would expect me to know how to do it.

If we don’t teach kids how to get by in the world, we are setting them up for failure. Just my two cents on the subject.

*”American Mark Thackeray (Sidney Poitier) recently received his degree in engineering, but cannot find work. To make ends meet, he takes a job as a teacher in a rough London East End school populated mostly with troublemakers who were rejected from other schools for their behavior. While the students at first see Thackeray as just another teacher open for ridicule and bullying, his calm demeanor and desire to see them succeed gradually earn him their respect.”

Turkeys on Parade

The other day the Crankee Yankee and I stopped by his brother-in-law’s house to drop off some blueberry pancakes (the Crankee Yankee always makes tons of them). After the drop-off, we drove home, taking the scenic way. We were admiring everyone’s Christmas lights and decorations when we noticed a flock of turkey hens on the side of the road.

It was evident that they all wanted to cross the road, so we stopped to let them pass. You would think that they would all run across in a bunch, but they politely went one at a time.

Now turkeys by nature are funny; as they walk, their heads bob in time with their feet. Also, they always make their signature “err-err-err” sound as they walk. It was just as if they understood that we would wait for the “parade” to go through. No one tried to run ahead of another; they just kept on walking single file until everyone was on the other side of the road.

There seemed to be no end to them, but no one else was on the road behind us, so we just enjoyed the parade. It was just a little grace note for the day, and I hope that they enjoyed the rest of their day. They certainly made our day!

To misquote Jane Goodall, “they were beautiful; those turkeys in the mist!”

Time for Some Jokes

I don’t know about you, but at this time of year I think we all could use some good jokes. Steven Wright, the deadpan comedian, has always cracked me up. The following are some of his best jokes.

Pour yourself another cup of coffee and enjoy.

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1. “It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it.”

 

2. “I almost broke both my arms trying to hold open a revolving door for a woman.”

4. “Every morning I get up and make instant coffee and I drink it so I have the energy to make real coffee.”

5. “Woke up this morning and folded my bed back into a couch. Almost broke both my arms cause it’s not that kind of bed.”

6. “I’m going to get a tattoo over my whole body of me but taller.”

7. “I went to a tourist information booth and said ‘Tell me about some people who were here last year.'”

8. “I’ve been getting into astronomy so I installed a skylight. The people who live above me are furious.”

9. “Why is it a penny for your thoughts but you have to put your two cents in? Somebody’s making a penny.”

10. “I broke a mirror in my house and I’m supposed to get seven years bad luck, but my lawyer thinks he can get me five.”

11. “When I get real real bored I like to drive downtown and get a great parking spot then sit in my car and count how many people ask me if I’m leaving.”

12. “I spilled spot remover on my dog and now he’s gone.”

13. “I’m writing a book. I have the page numbers done; now I just have to fill in the rest.”

14. “When we were driving over the border back into the United States, they asked me if I had any firearms. I said what do you need?”

15. “I’ve written several children’s books … Not on purpose.”

16. “I called the wrong number today. I said ‘Hello, is Joey there?’ A woman answered and she said ‘Yes he is.’ And I said ‘Can I speak to him please?’ She said ‘No, he can’t talk right now, he’s only two months old.’ I said ‘Alright, I’ll wait.'”

17. “I went to a place to eat. It said ‘breakfast at any time.’ So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance.”

18. “We lived in a house that ran on static electricity. If we wanted to cook something, we had to take a sweater off real quick. If we wanted to run a blender we had to rub balloons on our heads.”

19. “I stayed up one night playing poker with Tarot cards. I got a full house and four people died.”

20. “I was Caesarean born. Can’t really tell, although whenever I leave a house I go through the window.”

Tips on Caring For Outside Visitors

No, I’m not talking about the kind of relatives you really don’t want to visit you. This is about the care and feeding and sheltering of any strays you may have near your home. The Crankee Yankee and I have been caring for our outside visitors for years now. There are least five or six cats who regularly show up at our house. We have no way of knowing if they belong to anyone, so we make sure that they always have access to food, water and, in the cold months; warm shelter.

As we already are owned by five indoor-only cats, we are not looking to adopt any more. But we do care about our “outdoorsies,” especially during the winter. If you have the same issue, or are caring for ferals in your area (and if you are, God bless you!!!), here are some tips we’ve refined over the years.

First, some recommendations: from Amazon, I found some great “cat mats” that really do the trick in keeping the critters warm:

The Milliard Ultra Soft Thermal Cat Mat is a premium cat mat that offers the perfect combination of comfort and superior durability.”

They come in both large and small sizes, and they are machine washable as well. Long story short, these mats have a core that warms when the cat lies down on it. We have used these for years and it keeps the critters cozy and warm through a chilly night. When we know it is going to be very cold, I also use the packaged Hand Warmers and Body Warmers (I get mine at Job Lot). Just put them under the blankets and they are good for 8 to 10 hours of extra bwarmth.

Now for providing water during the cold months, there is this (also from Amazon):

“K&H Manufacturing K&H Pet Products Thermal-Bowl Outdoor Heated Water Bowl – Ice Free Water for Dogs or Cats.”

The bowls are perfect in the cold weather; they keep the water temps comfortable and drinkable even on the coldest nights.

Now for shelters to keep the outdoorsies on cold nights. Of course you can buy some excellent outdoor animal shelters that will definitely do the trick. However, the Crankee Yankee and I have made some pretty decent shelters over the years, and by now we have it down to a science. We currently have two beds in our garage, and two beds downstairs under our porch (that area is closed in with one door to the outside).

 

Generally we put the shelter on styrofoam or wood (so that the shelter isn’t on cold ground). You can use a cardboard box or deep, good-sized plastic container. Personally, I prefer a cardboard box; you can cut off all the flaps except one, which makes a little roof. Fill the bottom of the box with thick blankets and/or towels, and place one of the Milliard Ultra Soft Thermal Cat Mats on top of the blankets or towels. Place a small blanket over the “roof” so that the cat can jump into the box and have a bit of shelter overhead. 

Needless to say, this setup is best in a garage or a covered space. For an outside shelter, the plastic critter “igloos” with blankets inside do the trick, as well as any of the waterproof shelters found online or in stores.

Look, we realize that our visitors just may have homes of their own, but we don’t know that they do. I would much rather provide food and shelter “just in case.” Personally, I have to wonder, if they do have homes and owners, what the owners could possibly be thinking of to let their animals out at night. There is the constant danger of the animal being hit by a car on a dark night, getting into poisoned food (yes, some people do this to “cut down the population.” Freaking unbelieveable.), getting lost and so on.

It’s also a good idea to put collars on the animals with the owner’s name, address and phone number, and also a tag reading “all shots up to date.” (Because people may worry that the animal may have rabies, etc.) Also, it is a good thing to have the animal microchipped so that, should someone bring the animal to a vet or shelter, they can determine who the owner is.

All this is stuff we have learned over the years of feeding and sheltering strays. Again, they all could have owners, but what if they don’t? All the above is for “just in case.” As my late, great mother-in-law would say, “it couldn’t hurt.”

 

Grace and Gratitude

Yesterday I had breakfast with a dear friend. We were comparing life’s ups and downs, successes and failures, and how our age has given us new perspectives—about people, places and things.

It is empowering to realize that we and only we have the power to work through negativity, self-doubt, not feeling worthy or just feeling tired and out of sorts. It is a revelation when we realize that we actually do have the power to change our worries and resentments; to get out of what I call a “funk.”

It is a grace to understand that we can look; really look, at what is bothering us. When we see it for what it is, we can address it as a conversation with ourselves: “why am I feeling this way? What made me so angry? Why do I feel like everyone expects me to do everything?”

The next step is what to do about it. Obviously that’s not the easiest thing. Over the years I’ve learned that the best way to “clear the clutter” is to just address it: “Ok, that’s enough. I don’t need to be angry/upset/worried about <insert what’s troubling here>; I’m done with this today; I’ll address it <tomorrow, in the morning, next Tuesday, etc.>” This way we have a plan in place to put things right, or at least put them at bay until we are up to dealing with them.

It is perfectly fine to relax at the end of the day, saying to yourself, ‘that’s it; I’m done, I can do no more. I’m taking the night off.’ For me, late afternoon starts to slow me down and I know that I’m no good at battling various demons at that time of day. That’s when I say (out loud, too), “ok, boys—we’re done here. Let’s pick it up tomorrow after I’ve had a good sleep.”

Having said that, I can relax into the arms of the rest of the day, freed from all the what-ifs and have-to-dos. Enough, already. It takes a little practice, but you will be amazed at how soon this becomes a good habit. The “grace” part is that we can put worries on hold, and the “gratitude” part is that we can get the break we badly need. Not everything in our lives is our responsibility.

Besides, who but us is pushing us to finish up, carry on, and so on? We started it; we can finish it by letting it go for the time being. Tomorrow is another day; hopefully with more grace and gratitude. Remember this: you are worth it.

The Peanut Butter and Jelly Surprise

As you may know from past posts, the Crankee Yankee and I belong to a great group of people who love model trains. We have become sort of a family over the years, and we have many dear friends in the club.

Each year we have a Memorial Day picnic, and at Christmas time, a huge get-together. Everyone brings their signature dishes and we enjoy each other’s company as well as the food.

This year the Crankee Yankee offered to make steak tips and a huge Caesar salad. On the appointed night, we drove up to Bedford, NH with the car loaded with hot steak tips and the salad. This year the party was being held at a church, so when we drove up, we didn’t see any of our friends’ vehicles. It was 5:30pm, the time for the party to start.

The Crankee Yankee called the main organizer to ask if the time had been changed. Turns out that the party was for the following Tuesday!<Insert that “wah-wahhhhhhh” sound here>

At first, we were just feeling stupid to have foobled up the date. Then we were a bit PO’d that we made all this food for nothing. Then we laughed our heads off; really, it was way too funny not to laugh.

We enjoyed those steak tips all week, as well as the salad. There was no end of the laughs on the Crankee Yankee, which he took in good stride. As the real date approached we decided to make a “joke dish,” then a real dish.

We made a delicious and enormous pot of chili, using my mom’s “never fail” recipe, and, of course, a huge Caesar salad. We decided to make “poor man’s steak tips,” too. Here’s the recipe if you’re interested:

Buy a loaf of white bread, a jar of peanut butter, and a jar of jelly. Spread peanut butter on one piece of bread, jelly on the other and put them together to make a classic “PB+J.” Cut the sandwiches into “fancy” triangles. Nail them down with *party toothpicks. Place in a nice tray with a cloth cover. Upon presenting them, whip off the cloth and say, “tah-dahh!”

This was supposed to be a joke, but behold and lo, everyone loved them! One of our friends is a British lady who had never had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before. She loved them! Another friend of ours is a strict vegetarian, so she was delighted to have some. In fact, she ended up taking the rest of them home.

So there you go; if you make the kind of thundering boo-boo we made, just make up for it with something silly. Worked for us!

*Party toothpicks; either the ones in colors, or the “foo-foo” ones with the colored cellophane at the ends. 

No More Christmas Crazy

Well, the Christmas season is fully upon us, and when I see the strained and drained faces in the shops, the “most wonderful time of the year” can get pretty stressful. I remember those days; time seemed to slip through my fingers. I rushed to buy or make gifts; wrap them, ship them, get my cards out before Christmas, make my eatable gifts and distribute them, and so on. Even in my sleep I was crossing off what I had to do.

But now that I’m older, I don’t do all that. This time of year has become a cozy and comforting time, calling back the magic of the season I felt as a child. I allow myself time and space to go choose gifts for friends and family and these days, I don’t feel rushed any more.

It took a lot of years to realize that all that hustle and bustle was mainly in my own head. No one was holding a whip over me to do all that I did; I put it all on myself. Thankfully, with years comes wisdom, or maybe it’s just a case of “shoot—I’m just not going to do this anymore.”

Besides, Christmas is far more than gifts and cards and so-and-so’s special fruit cake. It’s a time to think of Christmases past, friends, relatives and pets who were dearly loved and have passed on. It’s a time to appreciate the NOW: family members; new and old, friends; new and old; the new pet who is nothing like the old pet but is dearly loved just the same.

It’s a time to remember and also look forward to what is to come. Certainly Christmas is not what it used to be, but how wonderful it is to embrace the Christmas now in this year? Personally, I feel that each Christmas has a message for us to listen and attend to; it could be a reminder of the reason for the season. It could be a realization that maybe it’s time to let go of old resentments and hurts. It might the right time to pass on grandmother’s prized ruby ring, or Auntie’s beautiful set of dishes.

How about this Christmas we just enjoy the people, places and circumstances of where we are now in our lives? How about this Christmas that we make new traditions? We can decide to donate all those winter coats we never use to a homeless shelter. We can go through our jewelry, knick-knacks, clothing and donate them to a nursing home so that the people there will enjoy a surprise on Christmas morning.

Animal shelters are always in need of funds, food and bedding. It’s a good time to go through our sheets, towels, blankets, etc. and bring them to a shelter to warm the animals there. The shelters also may like donations of cat and dog toys.  These are things that become a present to ourselves; we have been given much and it’s good to give.

How about this year we don’t take part in the “Christmas Crazy?” As my late mom would say, “I’m up with that!” She never said the usual “I’m down with that;” she felt it was too negative.

I’m up with that, too. Enjoy the season, the people and the magic.