The Secret’s Out!

I am a follower of the Christian faith. I particularly like those Great Commandments: Love God and Love your Neighbors (Matthew 22:37-39). I love that our neighbor is defined, in the story of The Good Samaritan, as not the person with faith beliefs exactly as our own, but as the person who unselfishly loves and cares for others (Luke 10:25-37). I’ve always loved Christmas and the Hope it encourages. Like my friend Shari, I embrace the motivation hope provides: to persevere and believe in the promise of the future. The Christmas Story is full of encouragement to persevere and have faith in the promise of the future.

I’m sure, as my children and grandchildren opened their gifts from me, they were hopeful for the Christmas money I typically give to them (I had always looked forward to monetary gifts). They can then use that money to buy things they were hoping for. This year, I played a cruel trick. I was inspired by the cruel trick 2020 was to us all. I made each of my children and grandchildren a mask and hid their Christmas money in the mask’s filter pocket. I did wash the Christmas money first, because money is dirty (always literally and sometimes figuratively). They’ve all received many of my homemade masks. They have not been thrilled. As in all things I make, function takes precedent over form. To be honest, even function can be questioned as one of my homemade mask’s attributes. Some were too thick, making it difficult to breath. Others tugged and pulled at the ears of the wearer creating a new torture technique for would-be terrorists. The Christmas masks were made using my favored pattern, but my sewing machine is limping along and skipping stitches as it experiences mask-making-induced Coronavirus fatigue. Openers of the mask-containing boxes were encouraged to change the filter immediately with the polypropylene filter also enclosed in the box. Since I won’t see my family open their gifts this year, I’ll have to hope they change out the filters before tossing the masks aside. As I said, this was a cruel trick of the gift-giving variety.

The Secret’s in the Mask.

I’m hoping (in the Christmas spirit) that 2020 will contain some value-hidden surprises like my Christmas masks did. It contained a lot of opportunity for ingenuity. People were provided the time to discover hidden talents and re-ignite past interests. I was impressed by the ingenuity teachers possessed (not all, but most) as I watched my grandkids complete on-line learning. In a dark year, there were plenty of opportunities to shine.

So this Christmas, the secrets out – the money’s in the mask; the light shines brightest in the dark; and we’re most creative when there’s a need to create. It’s no secret that I LOVE my family and friends. I strive to be a Good Samaritan so love to you and yours. Love is what makes life good and life IS good.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

I do love Christmas time. I love the lights, the decorations, the cookies, the family time. Uh oh, family time is a no go this year. I’m going to miss it. I love my family. I have enjoyed having two of my grandchildren with me for the last few weeks while my daughter did seasonal work. She would have to report for work at 4 a.m. so it was easier for them to stay at my house. I forced them to eat Christmas cookies, ride around in my 2001 Toyota Camry looking at Christmas lights and watch Christmas movies every evening (while eating more Christmas cookies and drinking hot chocolate). It’s been great (for me, my grandkids aren’t sure if they’re in agreement with my assessment). They’ll be returning home today, and I won’t see them, or my son’s family until after the holidays.

My Mom married very young and went to college when my younger sister started elementary school. She worked hard to complete her degree in education. This was in the late sixties/early seventies, and was during a time when progressive ideas were welcomed. Mom embraced the theories of Transactional Analysis (TA) for Tots by Alvyn M. Freed. “Warm Fuzzies” made us happy and “Cold Pricklies” made us sad. Mom spent seven years completing her degree, and then seven years later had her teaching career cut short by a large benign brain tumor (an acoustic neuroma). That was one big Cold Prickly. Most of my Christmas decorations were made by Mom as she struggled to find post-tumor-removal creative outlets. Getting those decorations out and putting them up each Christmas wraps me in a cozy Mom-generated Warm Fuzzy. She passed away fourteen years ago at the age of sixty-nine but I feel her presence every Christmas.

Holiday stitchery and ornaments made by my Mom.

Warm Fuzzies abound at Christmas time (or Hanukkah, depending upon your faith tradition). There’s honey cookies and latkes for my Jewish friends and Posole and tamales for those of us here in the Southwest. Warm Fuzzies can be very tasty. There can be Cold Pricklies, too: gift disappointment (don’t go there – remember it’s the thought that counts), bad weather, illness, grief following a loss, a pandemic.

So I want to share (sharing is a big Warm Fuzzy) my tips for a happy holiday that you can apply even during a pandemic. Watch holiday movies that make you laugh. Limit the amount of news that you watch. If you are lucky enough to live with people, watch those holiday movies with them. Laughing is always better when done with others. If you are lucky enough to live with animals, pet them while watching holiday movies. Holiday movies are always better with soft animals. Drink warm beverages. They warm fuzzy you from the inside out. Call your friends and family members and reminisce about holidays past (just the good ones) and laugh. Breath in deeply the scents of holiday cooking and baking (my favorite aromatherapy). If you can’t smell them, go get a COVID-19 test. If you’re missing someone you’ve lost, say a prayer of thanksgiving for the joy they brought to your life. Love, love, love… Life is good.

Christmas Branch

When my children were young, we would sometimes have a live Christmas tree but most often we would have an artificial tree. My Mother purchased a life-like artificial tree when I was a pre-teen. It had plastic greenery that was shaped like the foliage on a real tree. It even had pinecones. We loved it. When my parents decided to forego the Christmas tree tradition they gave the tree to me to use with my young family. I patched it as it aged and began to fall apart. We used it until it could no longer stand and support its branches. It lasted until my kids were grown. I then found an artificial half Christmas tree. I could place it flush with the wall and only worry about decorating the side that faced the room. About five years ago, I went to a quarter tree. I love it almost as much as I loved the tree of my youth. It fits snuggly into a corner in my great room, goes up in a flash, and requires much fewer ornaments. It even has built-in lights! My kids joke about my continually shrinking Christmas tree, and suspect that in a Christmas in the not-too-distant-future they will arrive at my house to find that I’ve moved on to a Christmas branch, with one or two ornaments and a mini-flashlight from Harbor Freight twist-tied to the top.

Tree of Christmas Past
Tree of Christmas Present
Tree (Branch) of Christmas Yet-To-Come

This is similar to the evolution of my Christmas baking and cooking. When my kids were young, I would bake dozens of dozens of cookies. I would bake pumpkin and mincemeat bread in quantities that threatened the world supply of those Christmas staples. Phil and I would toil to make 20 plus dozen tamales. This would be done while holding down jobs and raising children in a home filled with Christmas joy and the resulting fatigue, frustration and income outpouring. My children have chosen to block most of those happy memories. My children, having long since left elementary school, no longer require classroom quantities of cookies. In retirement, I no longer have co-workers to shower with home-baked goodies. In the old-age that typically accompanies retirement, my baking demands have shrunk, much like my Christmas tree. Isn’t old age and retirement GREAT!

This year, Coronavirus-related restrictions have further decreased my baking demands. Mincemeat and pumpkin supplies are again safe. The Great Pumpkin that rose from the field on Halloween this year, illuminated by the full moon, but not witnessed by trick-or-treaters (which is sad, because they could have seen it more clearly with all of the light provided by that big bright moon) is safe. There are many more cookies and much more holiday breads that will not be leaving my home and will be available for me to snack on. My Christmas tree may be getting smaller, but I’m getting bigger. Merry COVID-19 Christmas.

Super Powers

During her funeral Mass, the Priest accurately identified my friend Mela’s super power as LOVE. Mela loved her family, her friends, her co-workers, patients and learning. She was a nuclear explosion of love. I’m still hearing about people she taught, helped, supported and loved unconditionally. There is a positive fallout of love in our community, thanks to Mela being in it.

I’m sad to have to identify (again) my super power as guilt. One of the songs composed and played over and over again in my mind is “Guilty.” The opening line is: “Guilty, I feel so guilty; I feel like everyone I know can see right through me.” I don’t need to have a specific deed to motivate my feelings of guilt – it’s more of a perpetual state of being. Whatever I do, I feel guilty about doing it, or about what I didn’t get done while doing what I was doing. It makes my head spin.

I cleaned the grout between my floor tile this week. It was the last item on my list of “Things to Get Done Early In Retirement.” I had initially intended to complete the list in my first year of retirement, but allowed myself an additional year, because the first year of my retirement was hijacked by my husband’s illness and death (that was not nice to him – or me). I retired November 30th, 2018. I cannot tell a lie (well, I can, but I then feel guilty and tell whomever I lied to, that I had lied), I cleaned the tile on the day after November 30th, 2020. My brother suggested that perhaps this is one of those years with 31 days in November. He’s very familiar with my overly-developed sense of guilt. I managed to feel guilty anyway, because the finished product (freshly-cleaned grout) didn’t look much better than the pre-cleaned grout (I should have scrubbed harder). I also worried that Cinnamon might walk across the floor with the freshly-cleaned grout and get grout-cleaning chemicals on her paws, and then lick her paws and become ill. After all, I only rinsed and mopped the floors four times to remove grout-cleaning chemicals. I should have gone for five. Grout cleaning is neither effort, nor guilt free.

Guilt has its attributes. The fear of being found guilty in a court of law discourages (or should discourage) law breaking. Not keeping a commitment, and the subsequent feelings of guilt, encourages me to keep my commitments. I have kept commitments when I shouldn’t have; like going to a gathering when I had a cold, and later finding out that other gathering attendees came down with colds. I sure feel guilty when that happens. On the plus side, I’ve stuck pretty close to home during the pandemic. I feel guilty when I go out.

I wish there was a super power exchange shop. I would love to exchange my super power. I would walk right past “The Greats:” great beauty, great intelligence, great charm. It would be difficult to walk past great luck, or great creativity (I’ve always wanted to be a great writer, and/or independently wealthy), but I must. I wouldn’t even slow down for great strength, because that too would probably result in too much work. I’m pretty judgmental (I feel guilty about it), so I don’t need to go for the super power level on that one or the other less-than-positive super powers. I will aspire to love everyone (I believe that God is Love, and I like the idea of having that Superhero in my life) but I’m going to pass on that one for my super power, too (loving too much can hurt). I want Lego-like super POWERS! One limb can be honesty; one limb can be empathy, one limb can be (I can’t resist) creativity and my last limb can be guilt (I would feel guilty if I abandoned it all together). My head? – I AM going with LOVE.

Come on people now, smile on your brother. Everybody get together, try to love one another right now (from “Get Together” by Chet Powers). Life is good, but it can be even better.

Love, Jennie

Guilt-free granddaughter Liadan with guilty of mischief, Cinnamon.