Sunday, December 28, 2014

Mellow Christmas Moments...

It has been a lovely Christmas here, enjoyed all the more because Peter and I have learned (finally?) to relax, to make fewer and less elaborate plans, and to go with the flow and enjoy what comes.

The grandkids are the center of our attention, and sometimes their parents need to make adjustments in scheduling. Case in point: Augie was sick with the flu Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We still gathered at their house, but we delayed the start and kept things fairly low-key. Abby still made wonderful meals and Peter contributed a side dish and a pie, and we were grateful that we were all--even Augie--healthy enough to enjoy them.

Compared to other years, we seemed to go easy on gifts for the grands, or at least we didn't go as far overboard as usual. Abby and Eric's home gained 5,000 new Lego pieces on Thursday, but thankfully not all came from us. Our gifts to one another were both satisfying and modest, and we didn't have to stay up all night wrapping.

At one point I found myself watching part of the Christmas Eve Mass from St. Peter's in Rome. I grew up Catholic and I've avoided watching that Mass for years now, but this time I was drawn in by the music. As a teen and young adult, I played the organ for three different church choirs, and on this Christmas Eve I found myself singing along quietly with some of the Gregorian Chant. It didn't make me want to go back to church, but it did reach something deep inside. Memories of Christmases long ago, certainly, and of my family back then. And also the basic urge that humans feel to honor something greater than ourselves.

It's not that I've abandoned that urge; I've pursued it in lots of places and lots of ways. And it's been on my mind as I visit with my youngest brother David, who two weeks ago entered an assisted living and hospice facility.

In fact, this urge to honor something greater than ourselves reached out and tapped me on the shoulder while I was buying Christmas cards last week. It seemed to tell me to stop rushing around, to be mindful of others, to think about my priorities. Maybe it's just a silly card, and all those things were already in my head. But sometimes it takes a gentle hint to make me listen.

So, dear blog friends, I hope your holiday season is long and mellow and filled with sweet moments along with whatever harsh slices of reality elbow their way in. I hope as you review 2014 and look forward to 2015, you'll find love and enjoyment and fulfillment and deep pleasures that go way beyond the schedules and to-do lists that sometimes distract us from our real happiness.

As the card (created by Pamela Zagarenski with art by Daniel Ladinsky and produced by sacredbee) says:

This post linked to the GRAND Social

Friday, November 28, 2014

Do. Be. Dooby-dooby-dooby-doo.

I came of age feeling that my value as a person was based on what I accomplished. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person to feel that way.

I can't explain the psychology of it, but it seems to be one of those cases where you say, "There are two kinds of people in the world." In this case, those who seek to be loved unconditionally for who they are, and those who seek approval for what they have done.

Or maybe we all totter somewhere between the two.  

I've tried to value "being," and in fact lately I've done a lot of it--if things like relaxing and playing games and taking naps count. But guess what? I hate that I'm not doing more. I have lots to do for the carousel and to promote the book (sheesh, I haven't even told you about it yet). I manage to keep up with Peter as we take care of the grandkids, but I'm not as creative as I might be. I need to exercise more and to practice my tap routines. I need to finish cleaning up this office, still messy after a  year of writing our book and putting on a carousel birthday party. And so much more, all of which I expected to tackle with gusto as soon as the carousel season was over.

In the past few weeks I've taken note of two blog friends' posts that really resonated with my current slowed-down state. Sally, the Retired English Teacher, wrote that she has been foggy, unfocused, pulled in many directions. I began to imagine her sitting around as I have been, until I discovered that she (1) flew across the country to help a son badly injured in an accident, (2) had a nasty bout with an allergy that attacked her whole system, and (3) had recently gone back to teaching, 10 hours a week plus all new preparations. Noting how much she was expecting of herself, my comment was along the lines of, "No wonder you feel pulled in all directions!"

I decided that given all the work I've put in, and some difficult changes we are making at the carousel just now, I too am justified in feeling foggy and tired. But then the voice comes back, "If you'd eat better and exercise more, you could do more." Can't argue with that, exactly.

But Marie at Rock the Kasbah wrote that she has been avoiding some tasks, including promoting her book, and she realized that she was feeling the need to stay in her comfort zone for a while. Whoa, I said to myself, she hit the nail on the head. I've avoided promoting our book because it makes me uncomfortable. It takes reaching out beyond my introverted habits, boasting (an activity that is foreign to Minnesotans), and perhaps worst of all, risking rejection.

For about three years, being retired meant I could stop worrying so much about doing, and focus much more on being. But this past year has consisted of writing the book, creating items for sale, planning multiple big events, and ultimately making lots of media and public appearances. If I were the least bit extroverted, I might be less drained. But that's not going to change. So in fact taking time to rest and stay in my comfort zone, at least a little, seems to be a reasonable kind of being, and in the long run it will make me better able to do what needs to be done.

Do. Be. Dooby-dooby-dooby-doo.

I'd be surprised if you didn't have some experience with this dilemma. Am I right?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Casting spells and eating candy

At Halloween we've taken to leaving the lights off and not buying candy. We do, however, enjoy the holiday through the grandkids.

The girl who loves pink and princesses and rainbows and unicorns went totally in the other direction, dressing as the evil Bellatrix Lestrange from Harry Potter stories. Abby converted Vi's black flower-girl dress into a fabulous take on the movie costume worn by Helena Bonham Carter. Eric made an appropriately crooked wand, and Vi added just the right sense of drama, casting spells at every opportunity. (She went as the red dragon Smaug for two years, so this was not too surprising.)

In the movies, Bellatrix has on her arm a "dark mark" that identifies her as a follower of He Who Shall Not Be Named. We knew Vi's arms would need to be covered for warmth, so I drew the dark mark in silver glitter glue on the black trick-or-treat bag I made for her. Just before I finished it, Vi said she hoped the skull wouldn't frighten little children, and she wondered about changing the skull to a heart. I told her I thought the snake was the scariest part, and we decided to stick with the original. But I gotta love her combination of scary wizardry and real-life concern.

Augie planned his Ninja outfit months ago, and he was eager to assemble it so we helped. It begins with black sweat pants and hoodie he can wear any day, plus a balaklava (winter head covering) that he could close down so only his eyes showed. At a second-hand shop we found soft black "Ninja shoes" ideal for moving stealthily. Eric made him a long sword and Grandma Anita made a scabbard. Augie's new best friend dressed as Pokemon--a bright contrast to the all-in-black Augie and Vi.

When the kids finished trick-or-treating, they handed out candy at their house, literally jumping with delight. And since they turn over most of their collected candy to the Switch Witch, who in turn gives them a toy, they were more than willing to share a handful of Butterfingers and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups with Grandma.

I used to buy bags of "fun-size" candy and we'd eat a lot of it before the big night even arrived. Peter stopped eating candy many months ago, and I've mostly cut back to one dark-chocolate truffle a day. But I did splurge just before Halloween with a "trick-or-treat" malt from Snuffy's, a St. Paul 50s-style hamburger and ice cream shop. This malt had Snickers, Butterfingers, and Reese's Pieces mixed in! I ate about half, then took the rest home, stashed it in the freezer. and made it last two more days. So yes, I still celebrate Halloween. If only I could cast a spell and make sugar a nutritious thing.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Dragon, moose and other wildlife

What could be better than a crisp autumn day when the leaves are turning and the sun is both cheerful and warming? And what better way to celebrate such a day than to get out of the house for a half-planned, half-spontaneous adventure!

Too big for the carousel, the moose welcomes visitors.
On Thursday Peter and I dropped the kids at school and then drove south toward Kellogg, Minnesota. Our target was Lark Toys, a family-owned enterprise that includes an enormous toy store, a museum of old toys, and, best of all, a wonderfully inventive hand-carved wooden carousel.

Baby goldfish swims after its parent.
Lark Toys began modestly about 40 years ago when Donn and Sarah Kreofsky, who had made and sold a few wooden toys at art fairs, found their line increasingly popular with retailers.  Facing enormous demand, they decided to open their own shop, and built it into the nation's largest independent toy store. Donn decided to create the ultimate wooden toy, a carousel. He drew the figures and roughed out the wood, and he enlisted a couple of talented local artisans to carve them and apply stain, rather than paint. The effect is charming. Our last visit was in the early 1990s, when the figures were on display in the studio awaiting a carousel platform.

I rode the deer; I hope ViMae will ride the dragon (above) soon!
This week I rode the carousel for the first time. The gears and cranks need adjusting, but the figures are clever and playful and the workmanship is gorgeous. I am usually partial to antique carousels, not new ones. But this one is exceptional, and as someone pointed out when I posted about it on Facebook, we must hope that one day it, too, will be an antique! 

The place is now owned and operated by another family, and it includes miniature golf, several llamas, a small cafe, and other delights that make it a destination much of the year.

Five eagles too injured to live in the wild live at the center.
About 15 minutes from Lark Toys is the National Eagle Center in Wabasha. It's right on the Mississippi River, at a spot where the water stays open all winter, so eagles gather by the hundreds. Even now, when only a few eagles native to the area can be spotted rising on the updrafts near the river, the center draws dozens of folks to its hourly presentations on these amazing birds. Lots of displays and activities are great for adults and kids alike. I hope to go back during winter months some year, but I'm glad we went when we did. It was a great way to spend a beautiful fall day together with my hubby.

Note: This dragon was my blog's header while this story about the Lark Carousel was posted.


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