Saturday, December 24, 2011


I was challenged to write a blog post before Christmas, and I'm cutting it pretty close. Story of a Procrastinator's life, huh? I had this long post half worked out about gifts and giving and suggested some alternatives to feeling like you NEED to find that something-or-other to check off a box, but since it's Christmas Eve, we're pretty much past that point, aren't we? I'll wrap that one up and dust it off next year. :-)

And then a dear friend of mine (who is also the one who threw down the challenge gauntlet) posted a Christmas memory, and after I dug out whatever was stuck in my eye and making me all teary-eyed, I smiled while I remembered a few of my own.

I lost my dad in 1988, Thanksgiving weekend. I barely remember that Christmas, to be honest. It was a blur, and I think I wanted to keep it that way. My aunt let me borrow some pictures to scan, and I have zero recollection of the time spent at my grandparents' house that day. It's nice to have the pictures now.

What I do have are memories of other Christmases. 

My dad had a bit of a prankster in him. This explains a lot, you say. Thanks for the compliment. ;-)

I remember one Christmas where my Mom had a HUGE box under the tree. He and I watched as she started to open it, and lo and behold… a huge box FULL of paper towels. Individually bunched up (hey, this was well before tissue paper was as ubiquitous as it is now - Bounty is what we had!). I remember "the look" and then Mom digging through the box trying to find the wristwatch hiding among the paper towels. It took a while. As a kid, if that wasn't the funniest thing I saw that Christmas, I don't know what was. :-D

And, of course, they were PERFECTLY GOOD paper towels, so we reused them.

And then there was the homemade box.
My Dad had gotten my Mom something smallish (it was so long ago, and the actual present doesn't matter, so I don't remember what it was), and decided that since we didn't have a box of the proper size, we would make one. 

So I helped my dad cut out 6 equal-sized squares of cardboard from a MUCH LARGER BOX (which was then useless, but whatever - we were making our own!), and we taped that sucker together on all sides around Mom's gift. I think we kept the Scotch tape folks in business that year. 

Mom opened the gift and had NO idea what end to open. And we laughed, got a knife, and extracted the present from its tape-and-cardboard womb.

That box was used EVERY SINGLE CHRISTMAS after that, until Mom moved and we lost track of it. There was more tape than cardboard after a while, but I always loved that box.

I remember my Dad teaching me how to wrap gifts, to crease the paper just so, to fold here, tuck that there, and tape, tape, tape! 

I remember adding those individual pieces of tinsel to the tree and then recycling them every year to use over again.

I remember the one and only year we got a real tree… I went with my dad and our neighbor into the woods ("Are we supposed to be here?" "It's fine, just hurry up!") to cut what seemed to be the smallest tree in the area. Unfortunately, the smallest tree does not equate to a SMALL tree, and we saw that once we got it home.
To our apartment.
Where you have to wedge this tree through the front door, up the stairs, and around the corner through OUR door.
After much sputtering by my dad and laughing by me, I was sent upstairs to wait.

By the time the tree made it upstairs, it was much more Charlie-Brownish… and there were a number of needles and pieces of tree left behind in the hallway. But it was in. And it was… TALL. Sick of dealing with the tree, they chopped off the TOP so it would fit. So at least it looked fuller. ;-)

And then it wouldn't stay up. The cat didn't help. So Mom did what Moms do - she got out her yarn from her knitting and tied it to the wall. 

Picture if you will, a roundish, bent-up tree tied to the wall with brown, yellow, and orange variegated yarn, with a cat in it.

Yeah, we had a four-foot fake tree every year thereafter. :-)

Some good memories over coffee this morning, and a nice way to reflect on what we take with us from Christmas. So, in a way, this post IS about gifts. The gifts from my Dad that carry with me today. The moments. The memories. The important stuff.

What are YOUR memories of Christmases past? What are you helping create with your loved ones? What will they take with them once you're gone?

Thanks, Dad. Merry Christmas. I do miss you. <3

Friday, November 25, 2011

Merry Xmas? Happy Holidays!

I'm going to preface this post with an apology - I am the type of person who must have been a grade-school teacher in a past life... I have the propensity to be pedantic and want to correct people. I usually do squash that pretty well, or at least THINK I do, given the fact that people still seem to want to talk with me. :-)

All that aside, as Santa rolls in at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, in comes the holiday season, which I adore: the smell of fir trees and bayberry candles, of fires burning, of cookies baking, and (yes - FINALLY now I can personally accept) the sound of Christmas music (and the occasional rotation in of The Hanukkah Song).

Oh. And the annual rant from folks bitterly protesting the use of "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Xmas".

Apologies to any well-meaning friends or family who've joined the protest, but since you've made your point clear, I figure I can make mine and no harm no foul. Besides, I love a good debate. :-)

Here's where the pedant in me would like to point all the people protesting the use of "Xmas" to the following:

This is not new usage that the "politically correct" have dreamed up. The use of "X" (or the Greek letter chi) to substitute for "Christ" has been around longer than we've had typography to produce it. It is a historically acceptable abbreviation. So when I abbreviate "Christmas" to "Xmas," I am not doing so out of disrespect, nor a desire to remove religion from the holiday. I am not part of any "left-wing conspiracy" nor am I an atheist. Maybe a lazy typist, if I have to admit to being something.

And "Happy Holidays"... Oh boy.

May I ask what's wrong with genuinely wishing someone good will, regardless of how you phrase it? What on Earth possesses someone to see the worst in an expression of good will, and tear down the giver (which I have actually SEEN while out Xmas shopping in past years), rather than accepting it in the spirit in which it's meant?

I certainly can't be the only one who uses "Happy Holidays" to encapsulate Christmas (or Solstice, or Hanukkah, depending on the recipient) AND the New Year, and I WOULD like to wish you a happy time for both holidays without generating offense on the part of the recipient.

And if the well-wisher is unsure of the holidays you celebrate, why is it an offense for them to wish you well generically? It's not up to the retail clerk (who's probably been behind that register WAY too long this season) to determine in less than a second which holiday you celebrate and wish you well accordingly. Is it too much to ask people to accept goodwill in the intent in which it's delivered and celebrate their respective holiday anyway? It is not meant to exclude anyone, rather instead including various other beliefs and celebrations. And since when is inclusion considered bad manners? It's akin to looking at a group of people, male and female, and insisting I call them "gentlemen." 

(Actually, it's more akin to looking at a group of people, some of whom are gender indeterminate, and asking me to call them "gentlemen" rather than "folks" - especially when I sure as heck don't want to offend someone.)

How about we look past the Thanksgiving night lines for the latest sales, look past the newest toys that you HAVE to have, look past the unintended slights and unneeded offense, and take a good long look at what we are all saying this season is about, whatever we believe, and reflect on that?

Happy holidays, folks... whatever you celebrate, or even if you don't. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Solstice, Joyous Yule, Happy New Year, and if I've missed anyone, please let me know. Just be happy. Unwind. Reflect. ENJOY the holidays and don't be consumed by them. May we all start 2012 happier for spending the holidays with loved ones, rather than saying, "Well, I'm glad THAT'S over for another year!"

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Giving Thanks...

Another Thanksgiving upon us already? Wasn't it just Halloween? Or did the snowstorm's postponement of trick-or-treat make the time seem to move more quickly this year?

Naah. It moves quickly every year. For something that happens regularly, I seem to get caught off-guard more often than I care to admit. :-)

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday. Christmas is up there too, but Thanksgiving doesn't have any of the consumer madness associated with Christmas (unless you put off buying your turkey until the day before - then it's you and about a million other people in the grocery store picking up things like cranberry sauce and those last-minute "oops" items). It's a time to spend with loved ones, and to reflect on the good things in your life.

This year has been volatile at best, but I still have some very important things to be thankful for:

  • My health and the health of my loved ones, of course. There were some huge successes (a big YAY for my Uncle's clean bill of health), and some worries, but we seem to be holding it together okay.
  • Wonderful friends and family. Not only has it been nice to reinforce and strengthen some old friendships, it has also been both touching and relieving to not have to wade through a "divide" at this particular turning point in my life. I'm thankful for ALL my friends and family members, and doubly thankful that they wish to remain such. <3
  • Kindness and civility when it counts. No need to explain, but it's very much appreciated.
  • Snuggles on the couch with the kids when playing Nyan Cat, and goofy bedtime routines ("Don't let the bedbugs bite!" "Owie owie owie OW!").
  • The realization that, despite feeling like I've traipsed off the path and have been walking through brambles for a while now, I can see the clearing up ahead and I'll get there. Hooray for optimism. :-) (And thanks to those who've been there with me through the briar patch <3)
  • And the standards this time of year: the rustle of the leaves as you kick your feet through them, seeing your breath puff past your cold nose, the smell of the fires burning in people's homes, hot cider, sweater-and-gloves weather that gets too warm for either as the day goes on, pumpkin-this-and-that, squash galore, pies and more pies, and the ability to step back from the madness and just enjoy it all.
May you all escape the madness and enjoy your Thanksgiving. Eat, drink, be merry, and enjoy the presence of your loved ones. And kick some leaves around. <3

Monday, November 7, 2011

Philosophies and Observations

I was poking around my Blogger archives when I finally decided to start posting again, and found a couple items in the Draft state that were going on over a year old now. One was a bit current-events-related and a bit past its sell-by date, so I deleted that one. The other made for an interesting observation.

It was more of a philosophical question and how I would answer it. I'm not going to post it; my observation is that my answer now isn’t what my answer would have been then. It's funny to think that ideas I subscribed to so heavily (or so strongly TOLD MYSELF I subscribed to) are so easily questioned when my world view changed.

I used to subscribe very heavily to the following philosophies (and no, neither one of these was the question - nice try :-):
  • Everything in this world ends. Every. Thing. Worrying about how it will end is counterproductive. The smart thing is to enjoy what you have, when you have it, and quit worrying about how things will unfold
  • You are in control of your own happiness. For the things in life you aren’t in control of, you have control over how you deal with them, and nobody can take that away from you.

Of course, that was before the snow globe got shaken up and everything went all crooked. I guess I never had reason to question them before - seems common-sense, right? Great advice, wonderful wisdom.

Not so easy in practice.

Sort of like everything else in life, right? We know that if we keep eating the Halloween candy, we’re not doing our health any favors. But that mini Mounds bar is soooooo good. We know that we should choose the salad instead of the pizza for lunch because we haven’t seen a real vegetable in three days, but the pizza has bacon on it today and hey - bacon pizza! And then we kick ourselves after the fact.

So, with the events of late, I have become somewhat of a worrier. I used to worry about other folks, that's not the part that's changed, and really, it was more concern than worry. But now I'm worried about my own future. Quite out of character for me, and a bit disconcerting. I know it’s absolutely pointless - half the time, things don’t work out at all like you’d envision, so there’s no sense worrying, and the other half the time, they will, and you’ll have to deal with them THEN, so there’s no sense stressing out NOW.

As a side observation, though, it seems like the volumes of paperwork required for a divorce are designed to bump up the stress level of the average person. Luckily, that part is pretty much done. But I digress...

As for the “in control of my own happiness”? Yes, I still believe in that, but boy have I not been living that lately. Stress makes it easy to see the world through a dark filter, and it’s tough to remember to take that filter off when looking at the rest of the world.

It’s unnerving enough when your world changes out from underneath you, but questioning who you are and what you believe in just adds to the mix and seems to feed a cycle of insecurity. it’s something I need to be aware of, and be careful not to get too far down that path. Right now, the future is both frightening and promising. At least it’s nice to have the balance of the two. Maybe the best philosophy right now is a simple one:

One day at a time.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Taking Back the Blog...

Wow. Well, it's been over a year since I posted. It's time to take back the blog.

So what has Jen been up to since September of last year? 
Funny how so much can change in that amount of time. If you'd told me I'd be where I am today, I'd tell you to quit mixing wine and cold medicine. 

But what's a story without plot twists, right?
The big stuff first… 
Bill and I separated back in August. Some of you know. Apologies to the rest of you who don't. Or didn't. FB was updated, but miraculously, it didn't decide to broadcast it to my entire friends list and twenty third-world countries in the process. 

To head off the questions without going into much detail, it was a mutual decision… we have maintained a solid presence for the kids, and are showing them that they are important, that we are still a family regardless of what happens, and that we are both there for them. All in all, I think things are going as well as they can go - the drama is minimal, and the friends and family we've built over the last 20-odd years are still friends and family to both of us, and I am incredibly thankful for that. 

The end of a series of good chapters… and the rest of the story (stories, now) are yet to be written.

The not-quite-as-big-stuff now…
The kids are getting bigger. This should not come as a surprise. It doesn't. But wow… One's playing trumpet in 5th-grade band and running 5k races with me, the other is having a blast playing soccer and hanging out with the boys (!) in 2nd grade. We're gonna have to watch that one… ;-)

I ran my 3rd half-marathon in May. And I slacked off and haven't run much since. Bad Jen. Still… after three half-marathons, I could be convinced to train for a full one. Yes, I have apparently said this in front of witnesses now. Oooopsie.

And oh-by-the-way, the Run to Remember course in Boston is a GREAT half-marathon… Mostly flat, great scenery (running down Memorial Drive along the Charles to Harvard and back)… just gorgeous. :-)

Still teaching Spinning… although I've slacked off on the music/playlist creation. I'll have to get back on the stick for that.

Started writing again. THAT was a surprise. I was a member of an APA (Amateur Press Association) going on ten years ago, and I got burned out between working, the kids, and all the other stuff. It's been fun to noodle around with stories and poetry again and remember that this geek girl liked English class once too. And I believe it started with a friend who decided to start posting Haikus one day, and an "Artclass" that came about afterward (animated gifs, prose, poetry, and... crayon art??)… see what you started? :-)

And so here we are.
A new chapter. Some revisiting of things I used to do but stopped doing (Taking pictures! And I even baked today! Whee!). Some regrets. Some sadness ahead, but with blank pages in the book that are yet to be written.

It's time to write.