Knock, knock….

This week, on Facebook, my good friend Laura posted pictures of their new fish house.

Can I just say that I’m awe-struck by the sheer courage and fortitude of a woman who would willingly, joyfully, stay in a fish house on Red Lake with her husband, two grown children and two springer spaniels?  The fish were biting, according to her post, which I’m sure helped tremendously in the “fun” department.  And the fish house is nothing like the fish houses I remember.  It is the Taj Mahal of fish houses. A veritable ice castle.

Ice castle or not, she is my hero this week. Seriously. Not even kidding.  If my family of four tried to spend even 24 hours eating, sleeping and fishing in such close quarters, I can guarantee you that the next post on Facebook anyone saw from me would be from prison.  This is the main reason we don’t take long car rides together.  We love one another, but we are a family who needs to spread out in order to feel the love.

But you go, Laura.  You go.  You give me hope that we’ll take that long car trip together yet.

It is the last week of 2014.  A  year that has proven, time and again, what human beings are capable of when it comes to both good and evil on a global and national scale. For our family, it was a year of  some big victories and a few small disappointments, too.  As I read through the Christmas letters from family and friends, it is obvious that the scales tip at random for all of us. Some years we get luckier than others.   A college graduation and new job for one of ours and good grades and the finish line in clear sight for the other one give me hope that 2015 will be a good year, too.  That, as they make the rounds, Tragedy and his brothers Grief and Illness miss us for one more year.

Yep.  My wish for 2015 is that those sweet sisters, Hope and Health and Joy come knocking on our door instead. And whether you’re in a fish house, a castle, or some place in between, it is my hope for you, too.

Happy New Year!


And now, some good news for a change….

 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

Luke 2:10-12

On Tuesday it was still so warm that I walked around in the yard in a sweatshirt and tennis shoes as I filled bird feeders.  By Wednesday, we had a powdered sugar dusting of snow again. More is forecast for tonight, which is fine now that my own two birds are back home to roost for Christmas.  Even a confirmed winter hater like me has to admit that the snow is pretty and kind of even necessary around here in December. We are Minnesotans, after all. We don’t really know what to do with ourselves if we can’t complain about the weather.

It didn’t take long for the birds to realize that the feeders were full.  The thuggish gray squirrels managed to dump the feeder in the backyard the same day, which seems rude considering that they can pick up what the birds don’t eat without destroying public property but I guess that’s just my opinion.  We have one rather portly, mean blue jay who spends his days at the feeder in the front yard strutting around and acting important. He appears to have claimed the feeder as his own little hermit kingdom.  His poorly fitting blue suit coat doesn’t close in the front and his white belly is bulbous and full.  When the scores of black-capped chickadees in the yard try to take their fair share, he pecks at their tail feathers and squawks, sending them to the ground below the feeder where they huddle in pairs or groups, murmuring and waiting for whatever leavings the fat bully up above kicks down to them.

Despite the drama taking place in my yard, it is Christmas time once more.  The holiday will be a welcome respite from the bleak news stories that have pummeled us all for the past month.   Stories of intolerance and suffering that make me wonder who is actually in charge in the universe because there are months, like this one, when the world seems just too nuts to even comprehend.  News stories of over a hundred school children  killed in Pakistan and police officers assassinated in New York,  not to mention the hit put out on this little concept we like to call freedom of speech simply because a different fat blue jay on the other side of the globe doesn’t get the concept of satire.  Not enough eggnog on the planet to fix that one, folks.

And so, in months like this, we need the good news of angels and shepherds and wise men, especially. We need news of a star and a manger and a small boy born to bring light to this often dark world we inhabit.  News of peace and good will.

Peace on earth.  This earth.  This one. Right here.

Now, that’s a headline I can wrap my heart around.

Big trees, small trees, and something in between….

Well, the Christmas tree is up for another year, and it is the prettiest one I’ve ever had.  And yes,  I say that every year.  Don’t you?

There’s nothing like carrying a six-foot tall evergreen  from the driveway, down the sidewalk and into the family room to prove that a woman of a certain age is starting to feel the one she’s at.  My family will tell you that throughout most of my life,  I have had only two speeds when it comes to the holidays. Full speed the month of December and full stop on January 2nd. This is because I am a Christmas lunatic.  I love the smell of a freshly cut balsam and blue Christmas lights and my tiny, ceramic baby Jesus being watched over by the lambs and his parents in the manger on my dining room buffet.  I love Bing Crosby and David Bowie singing “The Little Drummer Boy” while I make peanut butter fudge and “Silent Night” in a darkened church on Christmas Eve with my daughter.  I love that Christmas dinner means a ham and not the big,  pasty looking bird  I have to deal with for a week before and then two weeks after Thanksgiving.  I especially love that everyone is just a teensy bit nicer to each other in December no matter where you go.  I love the magic and wonder of Christmas.  If that Elf on the Shelf had been a thing back when my kids were small, I would have driven everyone around me completely nuts for the entire month of December.  I know this.  They do, too.  After all, what is Christmas without a little magic and wonder?

And so, nobody was more surprised than I was when I began actually considering a small tree this year.  Let’s face it.  The big ones are a LOT of work and with two adult children who wouldn’t even be home until right before Christmas  I told myself that we could get by with just a table top tree this year.  I told myself that this was the year I’d start a new tradition around here and that we could all just as easily admire a small one as a large one. I’d  save myself a whole lot of work.  A big tree seemed like holiday overkill in this empty nest of ours.

Well, that lasted about a day and a half.  And then I did what I always do.  I went big and went home.

Okay, so it’s not one of those “Holy BLEEP, that’s a BIG tree” trees of past Christmases, but it’s big enough. I only put about a third of the ornaments on it that I normally do.  Most of them were made from construction paper and paste by two pairs of small, pudgy hands I still remember holding to cross streets either a lifetime or four seconds ago.  It has blue and white lights that sparkle and it keeps me company long after the other Empty Nester with visions of sugar cookies dancing in his head is fast asleep on all these silent nights in this house in the woods. The middle-sized tree with the sparkling lights will be the first thing the two young people, visitors from Other Places with cars stuffed full of news and laundry see when they pull up the driveway arriving at the place they still call Home.

If we’re very lucky, Life will be long. There will be more than enough small tree Christmases around here in the years to come, I’m sure. Many years when we will pack up grand baby gifts and goodies to travel to Other Places where we will  admire big trees full of construction paper ornaments and love.  And this will be very good.  Very good, indeed.

But for now, this full speed ahead lover of Christmas magic has decided not to rush things.



Good will toward men….

She is, as she says, “a young woman with old lungs.”  As she talked, I thought about the generations of smokers in my family who trucked through the woods with clear lungs practically to the grave while some of the other members of our family who never lit up once go through life wheezing.  She coughed and explained how cold, dry air is the enemy of an asthmatic person and how terrifying it is not to be able to take a full breath.

Oh, the things we easy breathers take for granted.  Like air, for example.  What a gift it is to be able to draw air into one’s lungs, day after day.

It is the season of miracles, and yet, this year, it’s impossible to avoid the images of police and protesters in major cities.   We watch the news and struggle to understand how it’s possible to live in a country where, in 2014, there are places in the United States that are simply too dangerous to police.  If we don’t live in one of those places, it’s particularly hard to grasp that such neighborhoods even exist.

Last summer, I attended the wedding of a former student of mine on the south side of Chicago and visited one of those neighborhoods.  I took a cab from the hotel to the synagogue where the wedding and reception were to be held.  It was a beautiful June day.  It was also the first time I’d visited Chicago. The wedding reception went late into the evening and as I got ready to call a cab to leave, the groom asked one of his groomsmen to go outside and wait with me until my cab arrived.  I kidded with him and told him that wasn’t necessary and that I could certainly take care of myself, but he insisted, telling me that it wasn’t safe for me to wait alone in his neighborhood.

Outside the temple,  the soft-spoken young man in the tux explained that he’d grown up blocks from where we were. He’d left for college and worked closer to downtown but had recently moved back into his grandmother’s house in the neighborhood because she’d been robbed at gun point twice in the past year.  The second time was a home invasion by teenagers with guns.  As we waited together,  we talked about what we do for the people we love to try to keep them safe.  We talked about how, often, it is the people we think we can trust who hurt us the most.  And we talked about the type of fear that can leave a grandson breathless.

And then, I think about all the conversations we really need to be having when it comes to race and class, poverty and fear.  The awkward, clumsy conversations we are often afraid to have but should, if we are to begin to understand each others’ journeys.  The conversations that make us hyperventilate because we don’t know where to begin. Because we are afraid, so afraid,  of doing it wrong, saying it wrong,  and then being labeled something we aren’t.

In this season of miracles,  my prayer is that we all take a really deep breath. That we find our voices, and use our ears, and simply begin at the beginning.

The Quilter

Families are stitched together with memories.

-Author Unknown

For Sarah…

We gathered and hugged and talked about quilting.  How making a quilt takes a lot of time and patience and skill to do well, and how stitching one completely by hand takes even more of all three.  We are women in the middle of our fifth decade who grew up in a time when learning to thread a sewing machine, sew straight seams, and make darts still mattered.  When I close my eyes, I can still picture prim, bird-like Mrs. Johnson standing over me in Home-Ec, all judge-y about the zipper I’d already put in and torn out three times.  If nothing else, that humiliation cemented for me the realization that my time was better spent down in Wood Shop with Mr. Moede, a giant of a man who let me use power tools and pound nails and even cuss under my breath occasionally. It’s important to add here that in 55 years of living, I’ve never had to put a zipper in anything but I’ve pounded a lot of nails.

Some of my friends were obviously paying more attention in Home-Ec.  I know this for a fact because they are Women Who Quilt Really Well and they love to sew while  I, on the other hand, just love the stories that quilts tell.  The way that small pieces of fabric sewn together become more than the squares or triangles used to make a pattern.  They tell me to not over think quilting…to start small.  But I am impatient with small things and time and am a rush-to-the-finish-line sort who is often more interested in the end result than the process it takes to get there.  I’m working on this.

Last weekend, in a lovely church, quilts told the story of a woman’s life as they rested, draped over railings at the front of the sanctuary. Pictures and granddaughters told other stories about who she’d been and the life she’d lived.  Her daughter and son-in-law, people I’ve known most of my life, told stories, too. There was music and laughter and some tears.  And after the service, I walked back into the church to admire her handiwork one last time and noticed the unfinished quilt at the end of the railing, long basting stitches holding the quilt together.

We are, all of us, basted together in the most sacred ways.   By blood and love and friendships that span decades. Sometimes, by stories people tell about us long after we can remember the stories ourselves.  The legacy we leave is not a career or a clean house, a garden or a quilt.  It’s our people. The ones who, with fine, perfect stitches and vibrant scraps of memory, tell the patchwork story of our life.

Love wins. It just does.

Every time.