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Archive for the ‘Christmas trees’ Category

Or perhaps I’ll call it The Fourteen Days of Christmas.  Today, as I am writing, it is January 6, 2011, a little off my usual schedule because we’ve been celebrating a long Christmas, but now it’s over.  And you know what?  I really like Christmas spread  o  u  t,  taking as much of  December as it needs.

If you are among the generations of through-and-through Americans whose big days are Christmas Eve and Christmas Day your holiday ended at midnight, December 25th, just as ours did before this year.  Craming so many celebrations into such a small space of time, it would seem the date was more important than the day.  After weeks, and even months of preparation Christmas is over in a flash, and now it’s gone for another year. The jolly old elf, his reindeer, and all of his helpers are taking a well-deserved rest, and that includes moms and dads everywhere.

However, if you don’t live in the USA customs for the celebration of the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ can be different, and are actually more in keeping with the authentic event than all the frantic madness we impose upon ourselves. 

Don’t think I’m a Scrooge grumbling “Bah-Humbug” through this wonderful season of merriment and joy. I’m not.  I love Christmas, the carols, the cards, the parties, the well wishes and even the shopping.  And more; before AD, Ken and I so looked forward to driving through the neighborhoods seeing the decorated homes, malls and the beautiful displays on the grounds of churches everywhere, especially the live nativity scenes where we could let our imaginations go and become part of what occurred more than 2,000 years ago: the birth of a tiny baby whose life and teachings have changed the world.   Yes, Christmas is a beautiful and unique celebration – and different – as we all know elsewhere in the world.

My family and friends who have close ties to Mexico tell me that it is January 5, when the children leave their shoes out to be filled with gifts – not their stockings, but their shoes – and gifts not coming from our white-bearded friend – but from the Three Wise Men who arrive on January 6.  Think about it; isn’t the tradition of gift giving at Christmastime based on The Three Wise Men who traveled from afar bringing the Christ Child gold, frankincense and myrrh as they worshipped the New Born King?

Leading up to the 24th and 25th of December there are posadas and celebrations where loved ones reenact the blessed event, with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day being a more reverent time.  But no matter what the custom or tradition, it is a joyous celebration for Christians everywhere.

This year I have found wonderful flexibility in December.  Perhaps taking a bit of the customs from south of the border.  Singing The Twelve Days Of Christmas, while being a delightful carol, sounds a little much for me.  Who needs all of those maids amilking and noisy French horns?  But 14 days of Christmas with some light festivities, and then a few days of rest in between parties is perfect.  When Ken was well, it was tradition to spend Christmas Eve at daughter Julie’s house, Christmas morning at our house, and Christmas afternoon at grandson Sean’s house.  It seemed we spent as much time in the car as we did with family.

Ken no longer travels well, so I declined all invitations to leave our home.  “Then we’ll come to your house,” said Sean.  “What evening would be good?”  I gave him a date and beginning the Tuesday before Christmas we dined and relaxed with those who could attend, and then opened gifts with no rush in having to get the kids home and in bed, or dropping someone off at the next stop.  A few days later we did it all over again with other members of our family.

“How joyful it has been to spread out the Holiday,” I emailed our cousin, Penny, whose family has also multiplied over the years, living in various parts of Oregon.    She agreed, saying  they also spread the Holiday over several days, commenting on how well it has worked for their family.   Christmas Day can be any day we choose.

If any of these changes mattered to Ken it’s highly unlikely.   He no longer has any curiousity or interest in brightly wrapped gifts, decorations, or colorful lights, and has no understanding of the holiday.  But always a social person, he still seems to enjoy having people around him, and especially the little ones.  Our last Christmas celebration was Monday evening with daughter Julie, husband Tim; son John and wife Marisol, and their two little ones, Joaquin and Maya.  The eight of us represented four generations, and when Ken looked at four-year-old Maya, seeing her beautiful brown eyes and dark hair, he exclaimed, “What a little doll.”

With no memory of who she is or where she fits into this vast puzzle we call family, Alzheimer’s has not taken away his appreciation of the beauty of children, and for that I am grateful. 

So after all is said and done, the gifts opened, hugs and kisses for everyone, and the last guest drove out of sight what did we get for Christmas?  The best gift of all:  Family and friends – in and out of our home — bringing their presents and presence, giving us their gifts of time and themselves.  Who could ask or want for anything more?

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Ken and I are part of the generation born during The Great Depression, and for years our title was just that:

white plate

A white plate helps distracted patients with Alzheimer's

Depression Kids.  I suppose we still are, just as “Baby Boomers” will always be “Boomers.”

During our early years, a good percentage of the population was out of work, and the economy then was in much worse condition that it is today. If one was lucky enough to have a job it was often sporadic; when there was work you worked, when the work ran out the boss sent you home with pay for the time put in: no sick leave, no paid vacation, no unemployment, and no medical.  Benefits?  There were no benefits.  Well, I guess there was one: having a job was the benefit.

Housewives watched every penny, nickel and dime striving to make ends meet.  Axioms, still of great worth, grew out of the struggle.  “Waste not, want not,” was my grandmother’s favorite, and she often quoted scripture when it was applicable.  “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,” was another favorite of probably every housewife in the neighborhood.  Time and time again she put those words to a test transforming the good part of a torn shirt into “new” underwear for one of the younger boys using her sewing skills and an old treadle sewing machine.  Uppermost, however, was food; the mother of the house gave strict orders, “Clean your plate.”  The moms of America didn’t have to add the guilt trip, “People throughout the world are starving,” because people in America were also starving.  Waste was not allowed.

I suppose when you grow up understanding value, especially the value of food when you’re hungry, the words “clean your plate” can almost be redundant.  So it’s understandable that life-long habits are hard to suppress.  I recall my father breaking off a piece of bread, dropping it into the last puddle of gravy on his plate.  Stabbing the bread with his fork he mopped the plate clean before surrendering it to be washed.

Nor did my father stand alone in the practice.  Just about every red-blooded American did the same.  A clean plate was a show of gratitude and appreciation.

Many of us would have to plead guilty of this “offense” especially when taking one more biscuit from Thanksgiving’s basket and sopping up a little more giblet gravy.  While the Emily Posts of the world frown on the practice, especially in public, we do, on occasion sneak by with mopping the plate at home.  However, when I see Ken stretching his own boyhood habits (distorted by AD) it’s a little different.  Bread is cut up as if it were a piece of meat and if it’s gone or not recognized he uses a cut carrot, an apple slice or a couple of green beans to swab his plate, which he does at every meal.

I’ve watched how the rest of his eating habits have changed during the years of battling Alzheimer’s.  When there were only two of us (after the kids had grown and gone) presentation became more important than when we all sat down together eating family style.  With just Ken and me the dinner plates were filled at the stove and served as if we were eating out.  Now days, I still arrange the food in a pictorial manner, but I notice that before long he has stirred everything together making dinner a gooey goulash, although he does appreciate what I cook and often states, “This is good.”  The nice presentation has vanished, but the goulash is still served on a china plate.

Years ago I read a story (true or not I do not know) about a family who had taken in the wife’s mother, who might have been an Alzheimer’s victim.  The story did not tell, only that she was a crazy old thing who would occasionally break her dish after she had eaten.  In frustration, the daughter bought her mother a wooden bowl.  Each meal was served in the bowl: accidents still happened, but there were no more broken plates.

Eventually, the old woman died and the daughter tossed the wooden bowl into the garbage.  The young granddaughter, who for years had observed her grandmother eating from the assigned utensil, retrieved the bowl from the trash. “Why did you bring that old thing back into the house?” the mother asked.  Thoughtfully, the young girl answered, “I need to save it for when you get old.”

No matter how inconvenient it might be I believe AD victims need to have the same respect as the rest of us.  I felt sad about the old woman having to eat from a wooden bowl, and also felt as if the younger mother deserved her own daughter’s conclusion, which might have been, “When you get old you’re not worth much, not even a real plate.”

Don’t get me wrong; at a picnic or any other appropriate place, or if it’s your chosen lifestyle paper or plastic is just fine.  Just don’t use a cheap substitute as “punishment,” or because that particular “someone” isn’t worth the best of what’s available.

Often AD patients clean their plates so thoroughly they want to include in their meal the patterns under the glaze.  I’ve watched Ken do this time and time again.  My mother did it as well during her years with Alzheimer’s.

One evening at a friend’s home, as we completed an pre-Christmas dinner, Ken kept scraping at the Christmas tree design in the center of his plate.  “Don’t do that,” pleaded our hostess, “It will ruin the dish.”  Yet Ken continued “cleaning his plate.”  Other than the irritating sound, reminding me of finger nails on a chalk board, it would have been difficult to inflict permanent damage on the Christmas ware before Ken gave up and relinquished his plate, which, by the way, was clean as a whistle.

“Next time he comes,” my hostess said firmly, “he’ll be eating off plastic.”  Sure enough, on the next visit, where she had prepared a lovely pre-New Year’s dinner, my friend had a very special Holiday plate just for him.  While the rest of us ate off the good china, he ate from a festive plate made of very heavy paper with a plastic coating – a throwaway.  It was nice, but to me it was still paper.

For some time I have noticed that he often tries to include the flowers or scattered leaves adorning our dishes as part of his meal even after the plate is thoroughly clean and all food is gone.  I doubt that scraping the edge of a fork or spoon over the surface does any more damage to the glaze than does a steak knife cutting meat.  However, the finger-nail-chalk-board noise was getting to me.  Problem solved: I bought some plain white china plates for us to use with absolutely no decoration — no flowers, leaves and definitely no Christmas trees.  Even at lunch he gets his sandwich on one of the new plates, and if it gets broken that’s okay.  We have more.  He uses what I use whether it’s china, paper or plastic – whatever is appropriate.  But I do draw the line; absolutely no wooden bowls.

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We were on a date, Ken and I, just getting to know one another.  We had been to the zoo in San Francisco.  While walking back to his car we noticed a man in the parking lot with a handful of tiny American Flags – paper – the size of a postage stamp – glued, possibly, to a tooth pick.  Wearing a military cap, and one of the picks stuck into the button hole of his lapel, he didn’t have to say he was a veteran.  We just knew.  It was also Memorial Day and the veteran was soliciting donations for the VFW or some other worthy veterans’ group.  Ken stopped, took out his wallet and handed the man a dollar bill.  In return my date accepted one of the tiny American flags and, with the accompanying straight pin, I placed it on his shirt collar.  Mind you, when we were dating, a dollar bill was worth a dollar – 100 pennies — and could have paid for both of us at the neighborhood movie.  I was impressed.  My boy friend was generous. 

My husband – who happens to be the same guy who took me to the zoo – has always been generous; not only with money, but with his time and energy.  If someone needed help he was the first to step forward.  Saturdays were often lost at home because Ken was helping a friend or a neighbor do some job that needed one more pair of hands.  So the chores I had lined up for “Honey” to do were postponed until another Saturday.  He had an insatiable desire to help others – to be of service – to “Pay It Forward” long before anyone ever heard of the book made into a movie.

 Several years ago, when Ken was better and we enjoyed life together, we saw the movie titled “Pay It Forward.”  If you didn’t see it the story was about a young boy who believed in doing good.  No one taught him, no one told him to be kind, to be caring, and to think of others.  The gift of charity came with his packaging – a spiritual gift.  It was one of those feel-good movies with a sad ending, which possibly sealed his message of paying it forward on the hearts of all who saw it.

          

The boy’s outline for doing good lay in three steps:  Watch for opportunities to help someone, do something nice for someone you don’t know, and spread the word.  When a surprised recipient asked “Why are you doing this?” the answer was to pay it forward, and the recipient could continue the good work by helping three other people — instantly making the world a better place – and then those three people could help three more people until everyone everywhere understood about paying it forward.

 

Surprisingly, I found on line that through the book and the movie a foundation was created to educate others about changing the world through good deeds, and November 17 is “Pay It Forward Day.”  I am also impressed at how contagious it becomes.

 

My friend Jack who is on Facebook wrote on his page, “I stopped by the grocery store and just staked out the people waiting in line.  I noticed an elderly lady, and as she neared the check out I politely asked if I could pay for her groceries?  ‘Yes!’ she answered, shedding a tear, as did I, and I paid.

 

“When she was through the line I explained how ‘Paying It Forward’ works.  Thrilled with the whole concept, she left saying that she was going home and bake cookies for the ladies at the bank.”

 

Jack later told me he went back to the store the morning after he had paid for the older woman’s groceries.  “The same cashier was working and said she could not stop telling people what I did, which inspired them to follow the example.  She, for instance, paid the dinner bill for an elderly couple at a Mexican restaurant.  The response from their waiter, the manager and the couple was unbelievable.”

 

Comments from other friends quickly filled Jack’s page, and with his permission, some posts are printed below:

 

“Wanted to follow up on the ‘Pay It Forward’ idea, but since I missed the actual day I decided to make it a quasi ‘random acts of kindness’ instead.  I was at IHOP w/my Mr. & son, and noticed there was a woman eating by herself.  When my waitress gave me my check, I asked for the gal’s also.  The waitress thought it was great.  I told her it was because of my friend Jack and paying it forward.  Jack, you are an absolute doll! Someone who understands true charity and practices it.  LOVE and admire your huge and expansive heart.  I am grateful to be your friend. You are amazing, Jack!  Now, that’s the Holiday spirit!”

 

 “Awwww Jack.  I love it. I’m going to do the same……”

 

“I try to do this on a regular basis!  It’s amazing how good it makes you feel to do something unexpected for others.”

 

“I’ve done that on the Bay Bridge – paid for the person behind me as I drive through.”

 

“You made me cry, Jack, you are too kind.  God bless you.”

 

“What a beautiful thing you did Jack.  Brought tears to my eyes.  I will certainly begin to pay it forward.”

 

“You topped me, Jack.  Near Halloween some bigger kids saw my ‘Trick or Treat’ candy in my cart and said, ‘I want to come to your house.’  They were buying a bag of cookies, and I grabbed their bag, handed it to the cashier for her to ring up on my bill, and tossed it back saying, ‘Happy Halloween.’  They were shocked and said, ‘Thank you, ma’am!’ Kidding, I said, ‘I’m going to take those back.  How about Miss.’ I love surprising people like that.”

 

“I give candy canes to the toll takers on the bridge.”

 

“Jack, I haven’t seen you or spoken with you in a decade or more.  When I read your post, memories of you came flooding back!  This is SO YOU!  I will put this on top of my TO DO list for tomorrow.  Thanks for reminding us to take the time to pay it forward.”

 

 If Alzheimer’s had not been in his way I know Ken would be doing good deeds for other people the year round not even remembering the movie.  After all, he was known to many as the nicest guy in the world. However, I know he is not the only one with that title, especially as we enter into this wonderful season of hoped-for peace and goodwill to all mankind.

 

It’s good to know that there are so many nice people out there doing thoughtful things for others, and many more who just need to be reminded. The only thing I will challenge about the November date is that it’s too close to Christmas. Christmas: when most everyone is kind-hearted and thinking of others.  Perhaps they should have made “Pay It Forward Day” sometime in mid-January – after the Holidays are over; when it’s cold and full of winter, when the lights are gone and the Christmas trees are waiting at the curb for the recycling truck, and our thoughts are about just getting home where it’s warm and inviting; when we might be inclined to fall back into thinking mostly of our own comfort — ourselves. January: when it can be dark and gloomy, and the storms of nature and life keep pounding at our door.  That’s when we need to do and say, “Pay It Forward and Keep It Going.”  Keep it going into the brightness of spring, the lazy days of summer, and into the colorful charm of autumn as Jack Frost reminds us once again of another winter, and a year filled with generosity. May we all strive to make the entire year glow with the Christ-like goodness we all have deep within our hearts.

 

Meanwhile, as you are finishing that last bit of Christmas shopping, don’t forget to pay a little something forward.

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I thought about it right after Thanksgiving and then asked myself, “Do I want to put up the tree and all of the decorations this year?”  I didn’t bother to answer me, just thinking of getting everything down, all the work, and even wondering what Ken’s reaction would be held little appeal.  He does so much redecorating anyway: magazines in the cookie jar, newspapers tucked neatly in the refrigerator or oven, his hairbrush and comb in the candy dish and rolls of bathroom tissue often line the mantel.  Did I want him pulling off the ornaments and hiding them so our mysterious “someone” wouldn’t steal them, or would he try to fit the small ones in his shirt pocket because they were pretty — or of great value.  Or worse, not remembering its purpose, he might ask me to take the tree down.  Was I going to be Scrooge this year and say, “Bah, Humbug” to so many years of tradition, even though I shop for Christmas all year-long?  If there is no tree, where will I put all of those wrapped gifts?

As I pondered, granddaughter, Katie, asked, “Is there something I can do for you, Grandma?”  I assured her that things were pretty well in order.  Then she suggested, “Can I help you put up the Christmas tree?”  Without hesitation I answered, “That would be lovely.”  Two days later she was up on the ladder handing down boxes of decorations and I was truly happy about her willingness to help.  In my heart of hearts I wasn’t ready to give up on decorating for the Holidays, reminding myself that all of our married life Ken and I always had a Christmas tree.

The first one, of course, was small and simple.  Our budget didn’t stretch far, allowing us only a few lights and a box of ball-shaped ornaments.  Ken’s mom added a few of her’s to our meager beginning.  We debated about a star for the top, and then decided on a glass spire which reminded us of the spires on churches reaching toward Heaven, which we felt, was also a remembrance of what the season is all about.  We could make a few “Stars of Bethlehem” for the branches to fill in around our limited ornaments.

As the number of years began to increase in our marriage, so did children, enriching our lives while keeping our budget in a continued tight rein.  Each year we searched for the best buy on Christmas trees even if it meant buying one a few days before December 25.  We filled the lower branches with unbreakable and paper ornaments which could be touched and held by little ones, and then placed back on the branch following close scrutiny and a few teeth marks as stamps of approval.  Our family dog shared in the joy of Christmas trees by excitedly wagging her tail removing strands of tinsel in a single swoop, and on occasion managed to tangle herself in the lights.  Fortunately, Ken was there to grab the tree while I rescued the dog.  The early years seemed to be set up for a touch of calamity.

One year in search of a tree to fit our Holiday allowance, we spotted a lot advertising, “ALL TREES — $1.50.”  Upon closer examination, they all rivaled Charlie Brown’s pitiful story book tree.  I found one with a beautiful front, but no back.  Ken found its match.  Holding them back to back they made one perfect tree. “We’ll go home and I’ll wire them together,” said Ken.

“Hey, wait a minute, I can’t sell you that for $1.50,” declared the lot manager observing our beautiful, full tree. Where did you find it?  It’s worth at least $10.00.

“You’re right, replied Ken pulling them apart, “it’ll be $3.00 for two trees.”

“Great idea,” exclaimed the main man.  “I’ll match up a bunch and have my lot cleared in no time at all.  Merry Christmas.”

So, for more than a half century we’ve had a Christmas tree; sometimes, depending on how ambitious I felt, we’ve even had two.  This year, the tradition continues; for that I am grateful, and I’m especially grateful for Katie.

To finish decorating I hung wreaths in the windows, laced garlands of fresh evergreens across the mantel, scattered holly, pine cones and then sprinkled it all with tiny white lights.  Legend says Christmas elves hide among the garlands and bring good luck.  With Katie’s help my house is alive with Christmas and the accompanying spirit of happiness and joy.

Ken hasn’t bothered any of it, almost seeming to know it’s symbolic of something.  I remind him often that it’s our Christmas tree even though the word Christmas appears to have little meaning for him.  Yet, the other evening we walked briefly through the neighborhood to look at the lights.  After the rains the air was clear and a bit crisp and as we walked he said, “I haven’t been Christmas shopping.”  “We’ll go next week,” I assured him.

Back home, in front of our own Christmas tree I couldn’t help but think that somewhere, most likely not in his mind, but deep in his heart, perhaps even deeper – in his soul — he knows of Christmas, knows of the babe in a manger bringing hope to mankind of eventually having peace on earth, good will to all men, and the promise of ever-lasting life.

And Tannenbaum, with your overly simplistic English words, “We stand before the Christmas tree, a symbol for the faithful,” welcome once again to our house.

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