This was my first Christmas, in Marysville, California. I seem to be more interested in my toys than in the tree, but with the decided lack of bling on that scrawny evergreen I guess it’s no wonder. Now, though, the strings of popcorn please me very much. After that year, our trees were always decorated with tinsel in typical 50’s fashion, and sometimes plastic icicles.
Amazing, to see three dolls under that tree! All these things make me think that my First Christmas may have been more formative than one would imagine.
This year I put up my faux tree for the second time. Who would have dreamed, even three years ago, that I would ever have a faux, (a.k.a. fake), tree for any reason? (When I mentioned my faux tree to friend Mr. Bread, he burst out laughing.) But while we were shopping during my late husband’s last Christmas season, he looked at the faux trees on display and said, “Gretchen, next year you should get one of these.” I brushed him off and never gave it another thought until the following November when I realized I couldn’t manage getting a cut tree home, not to mention setting it up, and taking it down again in January.
If you didn’t read the poem by Robert Frost about the Christmas trees he didn’t know he had, I put it up last year Here.
This year I decorated my tree all by myself one day when I was alone in the house. That was also a totally new experience for me, and I enjoyed it so much! I should not be surprised about that, either, knowing how I’m never at my best doing group projects. In the past our whole family would take an evening to decorate while we drank eggnog and hot cider, and many times listened to a recording of “A Christmas Carol.” Seven people decorating one tree is a challenging group project, but it was our tradition that we loved.
I’m pretty sure that introverted decorating will be my new tradition. I will listen to carols while I make the tree into a work of art. As I try to remember who gave me which beloved ornament, I will thank God for Christmas Past and Christmas Now.
I am learning to live, glory to God — though I’d never thought of it just that way until reading this poem. Its allusions to giving birth I can relate to, though I’m thankful I was able to accomplish the material form of that work when I was in the “glory of the flesh,” young and strong. Now that I am in the autumn of my life, now is when as a widow I have to rise to the less tangible demands, which before I had thought of more as a re-creation than a rebirth.
It used to be that January was the dark dream of the year for me, but judging from the last few weeks, I think that in the years to come the ramp-up to Christmas might prove to be the season when it’s hardest to stay tuned to Christ’s birth in me, as He,
At the iron senseless time, comes To force the glory into frozen veins…
Maybe it’s a stretch to apply these metaphors to my situation. But all the traditions of getting ready for Christmas — the planning for gifts, the shopping and cooking and decorating, Christmas caroling, all in a context of wood fires and sweeping of leaves and walks on brisk mornings — I have to learn to live on my own now. “Everything changes,” and I have been born into a new and strange existence. The natural impulse is to wish to sleep ever and to dream of springtimes past.
But as Christ is born in me moment by moment, I’m the farthest possible from “on my own.” If I could live in this reality, truly live in Him, instead of in the unreality of memories that are phantoms (human beings themselves can never fall into the category of Memories), it would be a constant breaking out in a glorious freedom that encompasses calm and warmth and joy, the fullness of God. I’m in the process — I am being born, ever so slowly:
To bear new life or learn to live is an exacting joy
The whole self must waken; you cannot predict the way It will happen, or master the responses beforehand. For any birth makes an inconvenient demand…
I feel that I could feed off this rich poem for the next several months! It is a great gift to me; I hope you enjoy it, too. May your Advent waiting be fruitful.
CHRISTMAS AND COMMON BIRTH
Christmas declares the glory of the flesh:
And therefore a European might wish
To celebrate it not at midwinter but in spring,
When physical life is strong,
When the consent to live is forced even on the young,
Juice is in the soil, the leaf, the vein,
Sugar flows to movement in limbs and brain.
Also before a birth, nourishing the child
We turn again to the earth
With unusual longing—to what is rich, wild,
Substantial: scents that have been stored and strengthened
In apple lofts, the underwash of woods, and in barns;
Drawn through the lengthened root; pungent in cones
(While the fir wood stands waiting; the beech wood aspiring,
Each in a different silence), and breaking out in spring
With scent sight sound indivisible in song.
Yet if you think again
It is good that Christmas comes at the dark dream of the year
That might wish to sleep ever.
For birth is awaking, birth is effort and pain;
And now at midwinter are the hints, inklings
(Sodden primrose, honeysuckle greening)
That sleep must be broken.
To bear new life or learn to live is an exacting joy:
The whole self must waken; you cannot predict the way
It will happen, or master the responses beforehand.
For any birth makes an inconvenient demand;
Like all holy things
It is frequently a nuisance, and its needs never end;
Freedom it brings: We should welcome release
From its long merciless rehearsal of peace.
So Christ comes
At the iron senseless time, comes
To force the glory into frozen veins:
His warmth wakes
Green life glazed in the pool, wakes
All calm and crystal trance with the living pains.
And each year
In seasonal growth is good — year
That lacking love is a stale story at best
By God’s birth
Our common birth is holy; birth
Is all at Christmas time and wholly blest.
I’m having that feeling of Too Muchness. I’m trying to reject it – it’s only a feeling. What is truly required of me? Jesus told Martha that only one thing is needful, and that her sister Mary had chosen that “better part.” What was Mary doing? Listening to her Lord.
I can’t listen to Him and entertain these depressing thoughts at the same time. If hear Him correctly this afternoon, He is telling me to play Bing Crosby singing “Silent Night” and “Frosty the Snowman,” and to write down some of the things in my life that are threatening to overwhelm me. It seems to calm me to take control by putting all the craziness into sentences and paragraphs, where it doesn’t loom so vague and impossible.
Also, writing it down shows me that in the balance the crazy aspect weighs a lot less than the obviously good and wholesome, the things that are easy to be grateful for and happy about. I took some pictures of the garden and grandchildren and such beautiful things to intersperse among my sad tales. That way you have the option to just scroll through the pictures — if you even have time to be here this Month of Too Much. 🙂
The first photos are of my church at night, when a performance of choral Christmas music was performed here and special lighting was set up outside. Inside, also , we had all the electric lights turned on before the candlelight performance began, and I was wearing my glasses, so everything looked very bright and clear! Normally for evening services we only have candlelight.
I had returned from my travels in time for Thanksgiving, but because it took me so long to finish my travelogue, I failed to show you any pictures of our festivities.
We feasted at Pearl’s in Davis, but the next day all the littlest grandchildren were here with their parents, and the weather permitted them to play out in the garden and to make gourmet salads and casseroles using various approved cuttings from various plants including cherry tomatoes, yarrow and nasturtiums.
I had bought junior-size lawn rakes which Scout and Liam were eager to use to help rake up the pine needles that continually blanket the ground. Ivy and Laddie enjoyed using the heavy equipment in the gravel utility yard. And Ivy took her alligator on a culinary tour to feed it different flavors of leaves.
While both families were packing up to go home, Jamie was sitting in the entryway in this sweater I had just given him. It was knitted by his great-grandmother for her first granddaughter Phoebe. Then my children wore it – at least a few of them – a lot before I accidentally shrank it and made it into this boiled-wool sweater that actually fits, and complements Jamie’s fair coloring. Perhaps he has made use of it this month in their snowy weather.
At the end of November asparagus crowns arrived in the local nursery, so I took a couple of days to prepare the two areas in my front yard that had been reserved for this one vegetable crop. Preparation means, in this case, digging out a foot of dirt. It was loose, imported loam, but it was wet, and represented a lot of shoveling.
I started to carry the dirt in buckets to the other side of the driveway but quickly realized that I’d never get the job done that way, so I hopped in the car to drive to the hardware store to buy a wheelbarrow. It didn’t make the job much easier at first, because the tire was too low on air. My bicycle pump wouldn’t work. So I plugged away, on the lookout for my neighbor Dennis to come home from work, and as soon as I saw his truck I was over there begging for help. Whoosh, his airless pump did the trick.
After two days I wasn’t quite finished with two beds of similar size. I knew I needed to take a day off, though, because my back was tired. Turned out it was more than tired – it was truly “out,” and I was laid up for several days and missed church and a St. Nicholas Faire and baptisms and a special dinner. Kit finished the last of the preparation for me, and I ordered a kneeling chair such as I used to sit/kneel on 15 years ago to spare my spine.
Then Monday my back was 90% better! I put the asparagus crowns in the bottoms of the holes, and covered them with a couple of inches of dirt. Maybe it was because I was racing against the coming rain that I forgot to take a snapshot of the stages of planting. Here is a photo from online showing how they look just before being covered with soil. I planted 35 crowns.
Now that bed looks like this:
Those brown hoses are the irrigation lines that will lie on top of the soil, under the mulch, when I am all through putting the dirt back. Most people fill it back in gradually, but one expert gardener I saw online seemed to think it didn’t matter and he replaced it all at once.
Here is a sort of blank place in the front garden, where I plan to put a bench under the osmanthus. Maybe I need to cut out some more low branches first. I will sit there in nice weather when I’m feeling friendly, and call to the neighbors who walk past.
My kneeling chair arrived, and I managed to assemble it by myself. That’s the second item I have put together now! But the replacement casters I bought to protect my wood floors didn’t work, because they needed to have threaded stems. So I boxed them back up and took them to the UPS store, and today the next set of casters arrived and they did work. Here is my chair, which I quickly amended by putting a memory foam pillow on the kneeling pad, and even that is not friendly enough to my shins – so I am working on my technique for kneeling on this thing, even as I type. I was not so delicate 15 years ago!
After I planted the asparagus it still hadn’t started to rain, so I reorganized the woodpile. I have eucalyptus and oak now, in different stacks. I got them separated more cleanly from one another and filled my firewood rack in the garage with both kinds, and I covered the rest completely with tarps. In the course of this work I found where the rats (before I got rid of them) had made nests reminiscent of Brambly Hedge in a sort of multi-level apartment arrangement. They had chewed up some of the old tarp for their nest.
This morning when I was lifting a bag from the coat rack on the wall, the whole thing started coming off and one screw came out of the wall. I tried and tried to put in a new drywall screw, but nothing worked; the hole got bigger and bigger. I watched some YouTube videos on different types of fixes using even more types of screws I didn’t have. I decided to make new holes just above the present ones, but I didn’t have two of the best kind of screw anymore, because I had wrecked them. After spending an hour on this unexpected project I had to admit to myself that I needed to hire a handyman to do the job for me. I don’t really have anyone I’m used to calling, and I dreaded making the arrangements.
But I had to postpone thinking about that – I must run some errands. I left the mess on the table, and went out the front door. At the same time my new neighbor went out to his car a few feet away, and I remembered that he is a handyman, and he has been very friendly to me, so I asked him if I could hire him to fix this little problem. He said sure! And he will come tomorrow. I argued with him when he said it is such a little job he won’t charge me. I told him I will be home all day because my daughter and granddaughter are coming to bake cookies, and his face lit up. “Cookies? You can pay me with cookies! Seriously.”
So that tale of woe has turned into a happy thing, a chance to get to know my neighbor, and even feed him! I was able to feed more people this week: First, DIL Joy’s mother, whom I took out for her birthday; she grows micro greens and petite greens to sell to fancy restaurants, and she gave me a pot of petite kale greens for salad snipping.
Pathfinder was on a business trip that brought him into town on his very birthday, so we went out this week, too. The year he was born he was my best Christmas present by far. And I’ll get to see him and his whole family in just a fortnight, for Christmas. It looks likely that all five of my children will be here then! The first time since their father’s funeral – It makes me cry to think about it. I wonder if we can manage a thing where they all gather me in a multi-hug?
Yesterday my friend Tim, who was a pallbearer at Mr. Glad’s funeral, came over for along-overdue visit. I fed him soup and fried bread, and strong coffee. We sat by the fire, the first one I’d made this season, and talked and talked. Now that felt very normal and necessary. I’ve been working so long on this post, I didn’t make a fire this afternoon, and I’m getting chilly here in my corner.
Though I haven’t got my tree up, or added more strings for the peas to grow higher on, or written many Christmas cards, I did put a big wreath on the front door. One step at a time, and one word at a time, I’ll do all that’s necessary. And Christmas will come. O Come, O come, Emmanuel!
The bright season of the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord is only in its sixth day, but already we need to make room in our minds for thoughts of transition, closing out one calendar year and opening a new one.
Before I go there, I need to be done with all the Christmas cookies, at least on this blog. Last night we Glads were off to another party, and I took the tins out of the freezer again and loaded up a plate to take along, but that still didn’t use them all up.
I made ten different kinds of cookies this year, including five new ones. Next year I may share some of those recipes, but for now, on to other things!
Like reporting on last week’s doings: We had three different groupings of family celebrations in two different locations. Sunday before Christmas we went to church with Pippin and family; this is Ivy in the foyer. I took the photo from behind so I could show her pigtails.
And next to a lamp made of popsicle sticks, a bunch of uncles and nephews playing a game, something they always make time for when getting together after a few months.
One of the trees that had been cut on federal land in Trinity County had been decorated with antique spice tins. I thought you would like that.
Back at our place, Liam got a lesson in Christmas tree appreciation and gentleness. He was a good student.
I found this pretty piano ornament at Pottery Barn when they were having a special deal, and I gave one to each of several pretty pianists in the family.
Some of my own favorite presents were these books I’ll be reading in the new year, given by four different people who scanned my Amazon list and surprised me with titles I had wished for and forgotten. Kind people.
I feel the Old Year rushing away, and the New coming fast at me, never mind that I’m not “ready.” Sickness right before Christmas pushed some duties ahead to After Christmas, and what might have been a purely R&R&R (the last R for Rejoicing) Sixth Day of Christmas will be interrupted by the Computer Guy coming to help with our computer, a machine so rude as to take our attention off the holiness of the days we are in.
As I am in a liturgical church, the service yesterday gloriously confirmed the present-ness of the holy day that is so cosmologically momentous as to need at least twelve days to properly keep it. The carol-singing we did last night also kept me planted firmly in the Feast, so that for an hour or two I didn’t have to think about the onrushing year of 2014.
Some lines of poetry from Christina Rossetti helped me when I took a few minutes to think. The last lines were the most applicable to my heart’s comfortable place, reiterating what I come back to again and again, the knowledge that whatever comes, today or in the coming year God means it for our salvation.
New Year met me somewhat sad:
Old Year leaves me tired,
Stripped of favourite things I had
Baulked of much desired:
Yet farther on my road to-day
God willing, farther on my way.
New Year coming on apace
What have you to give me?
Bring you scathe, or bring you grace,
Face me with an honest face;
You shall not deceive me:
Be it good or ill, be it what you will,
It needs shall help me on my road,
My rugged way to heaven, please God.
The rest of this poem can be found here. Whether or not you are the type of person who needs a lot of down time to process the meaning of the days of Christmas and the New Year, I pray you will find help to progress on your road to heaven. May God strengthen us all!