Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

This year's was the first Thanksgiving I'd ever spent alone.  As I did last year, I volunteered to work this Thanksgiving so that I can instead have off Christmas, and Mike left town early Thursday morning to spend the holiday weekend with his family.  Friday afternoon found me catching up on sleep with Stuffed in bed beside me while the slow cooker worked its magic and later waking to finish cooking, still in my pajamas. 
I had treated myself to a $4 bundle of salmon-pink Roses and frosted and decorated a single carrot muffin--my first sugar in a month--for dessert.  After pouring my iced tea and taking these few photos, I treated Stuffed to a can of wet food, like Lisa did for her cats last Thursday, and even let him eat at the table for the very first time.  It was Friday night, then, when I finally sat down to enjoy a simple celebration of food and flowers--and a sweet fluff-ball of a dinner companion who always appreciates the good things in life--and to say thank you, again, for everything.
Thanksgiving, I reflected while dining alone (after Stuffed had hopped down from the table and curled up on the floor again), is just pausing to think about all that you have--and all that you have had--and being grateful for it.  To miss eating a bigger meal only meant that I'd been blessed by a finer meal before.  To wish I were with my husband and family only showed that I am lucky enough to love and be loved.  And to feel nostalgic for all the Thanksgivings spent sitting at the kids' table at Papa and Grandma's house only proved that Thanksgivings huge enough to require kids' tables and hosted by happy grandparents are for me, not fantasies but memories. 
Thanksgiving, I was reminded this year, isn't only a "real" Thanksgiving when one is enjoying a full plate or full home. Thanksgiving happens anytime one says thank you with a full heart.  That's all.  And that's everything.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Before Thanksgiving, From Birds to Bedtime

'Got up hours before Mike this morning.  'Walked to Target hoping to find one of the $1 "LVE" Christmas tree ornaments I'd seen on their website before the Black Friday shopper hoopla begins later this week and they all get snatched-up.  I found two, one for the tree and one to keep out year-round.  And two little birds to add to my flock that flutters against our red gingham curtains.  At our old apartment, we had a view of both the backyard and side yard and could watch Cardinals, Robins, and Chickadees (my favorites) flit around for the seed we would scatter for them, but our new apartment has no real yard and sees no birds, so for now, it's an ever-growing collection of curtain birds.  'Picked out some Thanksgiving cards and Snoopy-themed Thanksgiving stickers to mail out tomorrow.  'Found four plates and two books at Goodwill.  Have I mentioned that I actually hate shopping?  I try to do as much online as possible.  After today, I am aiming for one more Target trip for Christmas gifts and hoping I can finish the rest online.  I usually succeed at this.  'Definitely a "Far from the Maddening Crowd" person.  
'Annoyed Stuffed by taking his picture while he sat on his window perch, but his posture was so cute and the trees in the neighbor's yard so glowing, I couldn't resist.  He spent last week determined to rub his nose against every corner in the apartment and is now black and white with a gray-until-all-his-fur-grows-back nose, but he is as adorable as ever.  While I was at work one night last week, he played fetch with one of his cat toys with Mike, trotting down the hall with the toy in his mouth and then returning to the living room with it.  I always tell Mike that if Stuffed didn't have claws, I'd be tempted to walk around holding him like a toy all day long, he's just so soft and cuddly and so purely CUTE, my favorite stuffed animal come-to-life.  'Love, love, love this shy little soul. 
'Got my Thanksgiving cards ready to mail. Last month, I pressed a bunch of colorful leaves into the pages of a book to include in future letters, and they're now preserved in Thanksgiving mail with transparent tape over them.  I only remembered at the last minute today to buy Thanksgiving cards, so to end up even this on-top-of-things tonight is a pleasant surprise.  I volunteered to work Thanksgiving again this year so I can have Christmas off instead, so it just really hasn't been on my mind.  Mike will be spending Thursday with his family, and he and I will have a Thanksgiving dinner together sometime next week, I suppose.   
'Went out to supper with Mike and had two of the best iced teas I've had since Summer of Sun Tea (and Humidity) 2012.    Everyone in our section of booths at the restaurant tonight was so appreciative of the server and so pleasant toward her and with each other, it made our simple meal out even better.  The last time we went out to eat, everyone in our section was treated to an elderly woman in the booth beside ours who squawked at the harried server--who was a good ten yards away from her at the time--"What happened to the sour cream I was supposed to get THIRTY MINUTES AGO?????"  Grrrrrrrr.  The server handled it like a champ and later joked about it with us, but rudeness like that just makes my blood boil.  It is soooooo much nicer when people are just pleasant to each other.  "You know, we're living in a SOCIETY!" as George shouted on "Seinfeld."  Mike and I did enjoy barking variations of the elderly woman's line at each other for awhile after returning home tonight, though.  "What happened to the [drink/snack/napkin] you were supposed to bring me THIRTY MINUTES AGOOOOOOO?!!??"
'Admired my umpteen layers of clothing while I waited for Mike to get a coffee at Dunkin' Donuts for the walk home after supper.  I love this weather.  The stars were out as we walked, and it was just breezy enough to feel brisk and not so cold that it hurt our throats to breathe.  The houses were not yet decked-out in holiday lights as they'll start to be later this week.  For the last Sunday this year, their only glow came from interior lights and nearby street lamps.  A few pumpkins still sat on porch steps.  We only shared the sidewalks with a few people who were walking their dogs, which reminded us, at it always does, of the time we were walking some of the same streets only to find a tiny dog that had broken free of its fenced-in yard, and while we waited for the owners to meet us at the street we'd called to tell them we were on, I sat on the sidewalk holding the little dog and it rested his head on my thigh as if settling onto its pillow for the night.  So dear.  The puppy's name was "Coco," the owners told us when they arrived to take him home soon after that, so now every time Mike and I walk in that area, we recount the Coco story to each other and laugh about how, even though he was lost and had never seen us before, Coco had promptly snuggled his teacup-size head onto my lap.    
'Talked with Mom and Dad tonight and emailed a couple friends.  And now Mike has gone to bed and I am up late, as always, with my books and more iced tea beside me before I join him.  The blue floral skirt here is part of the desk re-do I've been working on, a story for another day. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day Love

I love Election Day.  If making it into a national holiday wouldn't "water it down" by eventually changing it to a Monday and turning it into an extended weekend of sales at the mall, I'd say that I'd love to see Election Day become a national holiday.  More friends and families heading out to cast their votes together.  Holding canned food drives at polling places.  Planning Election Day dinners and parties. 
This country, of all countries, should be as enthusiastic about Election Day as it is about the Fourth of July.  Red, white, and blue-sprinkled cupcakes in the bakery shop windows.  American flags whipping in the wind on every house-front.  Lines to vote as long as lines to watch parades.  
"It's not the voting that's democracy," playwright Tom Stoppard (author of my favorite play, Arcadia ♥♥)  notes.  "It's the counting."  Mike and I will walk to our polling place together tonight when he gets home from work, and then it will be a night of sandwiches and spinach-artichoke dip in front of the TV as we watch election coverage.  
I found a number of American flags while out on a walk this morning.  
I love that.  I love seeing the colors, the pride, the lack of apathy.  Today matters.  
Whenever my Italian grandfather would hear some story of "only-in-America" craziness on the nightly news, he would shake his head and mutter, "What a country!"  And always, always, he would follow that with "But I wouldn't want to live anywhere else."
"You kids," he would tell us.  "You just don't know how good you have it." Like most of what Papa said, that is always a good thing for me to remember when I need some perspective. 
This morning shined bright in my neighborhood.  Leaves glittered in the sunlight as they fell from the trees.
After a dark week of rain, this morning's sunshine was a blessing.  A renewal of hope both in and out of the voting booths.  Senator John Kerry's 2004 concession speech beautifully reminds us that "in an American election, there are no losers, because whether or not our candidates are successful, the next morning we all wake up as Americans."    I wish Papa had lived just three years longer so we could have talked about that.  He surely would have been nodding appreciatively at Senator Kerry's words.  "See," he would have told whoever was there in the living room with him.  "He knows.  He knows." 
Crunchy fallen leaves on sidewalks.
Last week's Halloween jack-o-lanterns still sitting on peoples' stoops and front porch steps.
I love the whimsy especially when it is in the form of adult-carved cat-faced pumpkins feet away from political signs and bumper stickers.
I am just pleased to see people take an interest and vote, no matter their choice.  We tend to associate political campaigns with so much negativity, but it seems to me that that is mostly found online and in the media:  In "real" life, I think we all tend to be pretty respectful of each other.  And excited about this day.  Mike's and my old polling place was an elementary school gym, and outside it, the kids would sit at folding tables with hand-drawn-in-crayon "VOTE!" posters taped to the fronts and sell voters cookies.  I really think that when those of us of voting age turn off our televisions and computers and get in line to cast our ballots, the same simple excitement and wonder is ours, as well.  "Hardball" and Fox News and this week's poll and yesterday's "best" attack ads and last week's hard-hitting blah blah blah blah blah all slip away, and We the People are at the polling place with nothing but hopes and dreams and ideas about Changing Things and Making Things Better on our minds.  ♥  Happy Election Day.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Kindness is the only service that will stand the storm of life. ~ Abraham Lincoln

This week was the first in this apartment that found us sleeping in a "real" bed, since we just this past weekend assembled our newly-bought bed-frame and headboard.  The bedroom is the last room of our new-even-though-we-moved-in-August-1st-of-2011 apartment to be arranged and decorated, so finally, this Monday night, we slept in a properly made-up bed in a room that looked like a bedroom and not just The Room We're Unpacking From.  And it was the strangest of juxtapositions, the cold winds of Hurricane Sandy howling and its rains pelting the windows while Mike, Stuffed, and I curled up under quilts and comforters with a space heater on at the foot of the bed and a battery-operated candle flickering on Mike's nightstand:  Never before had we had such a snug and sound sleep in our new home, and all the while, so many were suffering so horribly.  Mike and I had watched CNN and the Weather Channel for hours before going to bed, in between checking on friends in New Jersey and Connecticut, so we  knew it was getting bad and going to get worse, but it was still shocking, when Mike woke up at 2 a.m. Tuesday and read aloud a news alert that had come across his phone:  "18 people dead."  That number has since risen, of course, but at 2 a.m. Tuesday, to hear such a thing while safely cuddled up against my husband and cat in a comfy new bed, was stunning.  And what was there to do at such an hour but cuddle closer and pray.

Soon after, I dreamed that I was walking past a store that had a group of Salvation Army bell-ringers out front, but they were not only ringing their bells hoping for the usual handfuls of change to be dropped into their red kettles for charity, but also singing, and it was the most beautiful sound I've ever heard, the most beautiful a cappella choir, their voices rising to the sweetest notes and harmonizing perfectly.  I was so moved by the sound of it, I wanted to cry out to tell them how beautiful they were and what a tonic their voices were, but of course, I didn't want to interrupt.  Dropping money into their kettles seemed almost too crass a thing to do in response to a moment of such beauty and grace.  I tried to catch the eyes of some of the singers, but--it being a dream--they were staring above and beyond me while they sang and I couldn't get anyone to make eye contact with me.  I decided just to leave whatever money I had on me, but after scrounging through my pockets and bag, I only came up with 37 cents.  After wrestling with my embarrassment for a few moments, I decided that if that was all I could give, then it would just have to be enough--better that, than nothing--and I dropped my handful of coins into one of the kettles, trying again to make eye contact with the singers while I smiled at them, hoping they understood my appreciation and my offering. 

This week with all its news of Sandy-related destruction and fledgling recovery has so heartbreakingly highlighted our fragility and strength.  "True strength is delicate," as the saying goes.  I have made my small donations to the Red Cross and the Humane Society, and I pray that those at this moment trapped in flooded homes and digging to find anything salvageable in burned-out yards can somehow sense all the prayers and good wishes we have all been sending and find strength in them.  "I don't feel God around me at all right now," I remember whimpering in disbelief to my favorite teacher the day after my best friend died in high school.  But He is here, he reassured me, explaining that God was my friends and my parents and anybody else who did anything kind or good to help me through my grief.  I still believe that, seventeen years later, so now I pray that we are all somehow putting our best selves forward for each other, being the little kids' God who gives away not just clean dry clothes but also coloring books and Halloween candy in makeshift shelters, being the adults' God who sends rescue boats and helps with insurance forms and who hands out hot coffee too.  Let our prayers and our offerings, even if they strike us as small, be enough today and in the days ahead.  I believe that love changes the world and that God is always here, masquerading as Halloween candy, warm blankets, and handfuls of coins.