Christmas

Staying in Focus: Memories of Christmas Past

Christmas memories are some of our most treasured memories because they are reminders of our past, shared experiences of childhood and of family. They speak of a time  when wonder and excitement filled our lives, and we believed anything was possible.

No that I’m older, many of my Christmas memories include loved ones I have lost – my grandparents, my dad, my brother, John, and friends I’ve lost touch with. Within my Christmas memories, however, they walk with me again. I can recall, as if it were yesterday, going to buy our tree on the coldest night of the year. How my dad figured this out remains a mystery, but I can still feel the bite of the cold, our cheeks and noses cherry red, our joy when we knew we had found the perfect tree. The next step was to hang the outside lights on the next coldest night of the year! I remember helping my father string the lights on the bushes in front of our house, the snow coming down and the wind whipping it into drifts. Most of my childhood Christmases were white.

Right before Christmas each year, usually on a Sunday, we would drive up to check on our summer cabin at Lake Wallkill in Sussex County, NJ. We would stop to do a little Christmas shopping in a large department store there. We’d make our purchases as snow began to fall, and once home, rush to hide them from view. I have a clear memory of buying a set of colored pencils there. They were made of clear plastic which made it easy to see what color they were. and by twisting the top of the pencil, the color moved down to keep a point ready to color. Funny, the things you remember.

I recall the smell of the roasting turkey, the tartness of cranberry sauce and the incomparable tasty delight of one of my grandma’s pies. My grandmother had 9 children and she and my aunt lived next door to us, so at Christmas, when her seven sons and their families came to call, they dropped in for a visit with us, too. It took most of the week between Christmas and New Year’s day to visit and be visited by all our relatives and friends.

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The first Christmas I remember was when I was  5, and we traveled to Florida to visit my dad’s uncle. I remember taking a ride in a glass bottom boat in the Everglades. When I was 8, I received a Shirley Temple Treasury.IMG_7847 I still have the book, although I had to make it a new cover for it. When I  was 11, Santa brought me my first camera – a Kodak Brownie. This is the first picture I took with it.

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I recall the Christmas  I received a nine transistor radio.  It was bright red, and I could listen to Cousin Brucie on 77 WABC radio from our backyard poolside deck.  What a marvel! My first tape player, also a Christmas gift,was a reel to reel – long before 8 tracks, cassettes and the i Pod. We would tape our favorite TV shows (audio only, of course), then play them over and over.

During high school and college, I was the local TAP/CAP (Teen Action Program/College Action Program) coördinator for the March of Dimes, and each Christmas we would go out caroling and accept donations for the March of Dimes.  What fun we had strolling along under a dark sky spangled with stars, filling the cold night air with song.IMG_0003

Christmas memories grow more precious as the years go by. New traditions eventually replace the old as children grow, friendships fade, families move, and loved ones pass away but those memories of Christmases past stay with us, as clear and crisp as a winter’s day in late December.

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Staying in Focus: A Job Well Done!

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO MY FOLLOWERS, FAMILY AND FRIENDS!

  

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‘Twas the night before Christmas

the 24th of December

how to rest and relax

these elves could not remember

they’had decked all the halls

hung wreaths on the walls

the trees were strung bright

with twinkling lights

they’d  shopped, wrapped and baked

till their fingers would ache

now they looked all around

no task to be found

their job  was complete

they’d  stood up to the test

SO THEY PUT UP THEIR FEET

AND SAT DOWN FOR A REST!

Staying in Focus: Daily Prompt: Memories of Holidays Past

Daily Prompt: What is your very favorite holiday? Recount the specific memory or memories that have made that holiday special to you.

This prompt is quite timely, as  my Christmas card theme this year is “Remember When”. I wrote this poem as the verse on the card:

Remember When

Cherished memories come to mind,

every year at Christmas time

As the year draws to an end,

they invite me to ‘remember when’

Remember when Christmas

was covered with snow,

the flakes would fly

and the cold wind blow?

Remember when we trimmed the tree?

Dad hung the tinsel

as straight as could be

Remember when it didn’t snow,

and we feared Santa wouldn’t show?

Remember when family and friends

dropped by,

for conversation and pumpkin pie?

Remember when we’d go a caroling,

into the frosty night

with hearts full of cheer and spirits bright?

Hold moments like these close in your heart

and when you want to revisit them

sit back and simply ‘remember when’

Christmas is by far my favorite holiday. I love everything about it from the decorations to trimming the tree, finding the perfect gift for someone special, wrapping and hiding presents and baking cookies, and  watching our favorite Christmas movies on TV. We used to attend midnight mass, where candles would fill the church with light, but these days it is too hard to stay up that late, especially after attending my sister’s annual Christmas Eve celebration of food, fun and presents.  So we go to an earlier mass. I love the joyful sound of Christmas carols filling the church, and listening to the children play carols with the bells. Then we drive home through a city aglow with luminaries lining driveways and roads.  At home, mom and I get cozy and I usually buy her a special gift – new pajama, a robe or slippers. This year having been so tough on her, I bought us each a pair of elf slippers, for a little laugh. I will be sure to post some pictures on Christmas Eve. Before bed, Mom and I watch “White Christmas”.

Christmas memories are the best memories. I remember decorating the outside of the house with the snowflakes flying, buying our tree on the coldest  night of the year, making our own decorations, wrapping and hiding presents, teasing each other with hints of what may lie beneath the colorful paper. One of our family traditions was to draw a name and buy a small gift to exchange on Christmas Eve. I don’t know why this memory has stuck in my mind, but I remember my dad giving me  a novel  – a madcap mystery with the Monkees as the main characters, and I see myself sitting by the tree reading my book. An earlier memory is that of receiving a Shirley Temple Treasury – seems most of my favorite memories involve books. I still have that book, 53 Christmases later.

It has long been  a  tradition in our family to exchange handmade gifts. These have ranged, over the years, from Mom’s beautiful cross stitch on pictures, pin cushions, bookmarks, pillows and ornaments, to my nature photography, paintings, poetry and jewelry. My sister has provided many of our treasured decorations –   painted lamps, needlepoint Santa candles,  angels, and  painted bottles, plates, and mugs. My brother is a genius at making things from found objects like driftwood, railroad spikes, odds and ends he turns into art and  treasured memories. My favorite is a carved walking stick. His family, my sister-in law, Elise, and children Sammy and Isaac have added ornaments for our tree. Last year Elise made very clever scarves made from yarn. My niece, Jeanette, also an artist, paints on found objects like a bird’s feather or a seashell. All of these add to the special holiday that is Christmas, because of the thought and time given in their creation.

The promise of Christmas is a message of peace and love, the hope that  one day we will  achieve them, the joy we find  in family and friends, This is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Staying in Focus: Daily Prompt: Anticipation

Daily Prompt : When you’re giddy with excitement, does time speed up? Slow down? Tell us about the experience of anticipation.

For me, anticipation varies with the type of event it precedes. Take Christmas, for example.  I find the anticipation more enjoyable than the celebration itself. I enjoy finding that perfect gift for someone, keeping secrets, hiding gifts, wrapping, decorating, trimming the tree and writing my annual Christmas poem.  These all combine to make the event itself almost anticlimactic.  Time begins to speed up as the holiday grows closer, and by Christmas Day, the presents are given and received, and anticipation lies discarded, along with the torn wrappings left in a pile on the floor.

Then there is vacation. I love anticipating vacation. When I was younger, my family would load up the station wagon and head out cross-country for two weeks. We traveled the country coast to coast, from sea to shining sea. We also visited Canada and Mexico. Sometime in February, when snow-covered the ground, we would decide where to travel and I would send for travel brochures from the states we would be visiting. While the winds howled outside, I would happily schedule our trips, planning each day’s itinerary. Then in June we would go shopping to buy our clothes for the trip – new bathing suits, shorts and tops, shoes and sandals. Unlike Christmas, however, time would slow down as vacation approached. There was school to finish – projects, papers, final exams. But finally the day would arrive and off we would go.

I still enjoy anticipating vacations, but now that I am older, I find that time in general seems to accelerate its speed constantly. This year my husband and I spent two weeks on a cruise of the British Isles/tour of London, and at times I cannot believe we were really there.  Our first cruise seemed to go by so quickly, I promised myself I would take the time to pay attention on this one, try to slow time down and not let the days pass by so quickly – no luck. It went by in a flash.

Then there are the events I prefer not to anticipate like dental visits, colonoscopies, and mammograms. And somehow, these events roll around even faster than I could anticipate if I wanted to.

But, all in all, I find having something good to anticipate is important to my mental health. Whether it makes me giddy with excitement like Christmas or a cruise, or something simpler but equally important like an outing with friends or a visit from family, having something to look forward to gets us through the tough times, adds sunshine to a rainy day, keeps our spirits up when the cold winds are howling.. Life is what we make it, and anticipation keeps us engaged in life.

I can’t wait for Christmas.

Hey, Bill, have you booked that next cruise?

Daily Prompt: Fifteen Credits:Staying in Focus: Memories in Black and White (Notebooks)


 Daily Prompt: Fifteen Credits

Another semester is starting. If you are  in school are you looking forward to starting classes? If you’re out of school, what do you miss about it — or are you glad those days are over? 

Memories in Black and White (Notebooks)

Although I often felt sad at the passing of summer, those long, sunny days of swimming, fishing, hiking or lying in a hammock reading the afternoon away, there was always a special anticipation which came with the arrival of September. We started school  after Labor Day, and so September brings to mind change, replacing summer’s freedom and ease with routine and schedules.

We would go to a store named Gellman’s to pick up our uniforms, to a shoe store for black and white saddle shoes and then to the Ben Franklin’s  or Woolworths for pencils and paper, black and white notebooks, and fountain pens and cartridges (remember them?  No ballpoint pens allowed in my school). To this day I cannot walk past a display of school supplies without getting that nostalgic feeling.  I can remember having a Dr. Kildaire pencil-case and a Monkees lunchbox.  Am I dating myself here?

I can remember opening that new black and white notebook, all the pages crisp and clean, that first page representing a new beginning, full of possibilities, a new year of learning waiting to be written. I remember how carefully I would write on that first page, practicing my Palmer method handwriting.  By the time the notebook was filled, it was dog-eared and tired, the excitement of a new school year-long past and replaced by dreams of Christmas vacation.

While in school our lives have clearly marked milestones. The beginning of the school year in September, Christmas and Easter vacations, the last day of school followed by an endless summer. Once out of school the years run together, and one day you find yourself gazing nostalgically at the school supplies in Staples.  Dr. Kildaire is long gone, and now vampires and zombies cover the spiral notebooks which have replaced the old black and whites.

Do I miss the start of a new school year? I guess, so, as I have just enrolled in an online course provided by my local community college. Some things change and some remain the same, and guess what? I can still find a black and white notebook wedged between the vampires and zombies. Now, I if I can only find that fountain pen!

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school picture grade 8

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my first black and white notebooks

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kindergarten homework

Focus On: Dr. Seuss, Smiles and the Moments of our Lives

        don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened — Dr. Seuss

I came across this quote by one of my favorite writers, Dr. Seuss, and I realized how nicely his words speak to the cultivation of mindfulness.   How often do we miss out on the joys in our lives by anticipating their conclusion?.  How many moments are lost to our attention by our fear of living them and letting them go? This can apply to everything from a long anticipated vacation to a simple weekend.

Let’s take today, for example.  I have a choice.  I can fill my day up with things I enjoy doing with mindful attention, or sit here and lament the fact that it’s already 10:00 AM on Saturday morning and the weekend is already slipping through my fingers.

A great example of this is Christmas.  We spend so long anticipating this celebration. We decorate, buy and wrap gifts, plan menus and are so wrapped up ourselves in the planning that we hardly take time to really enjoy the moments of the season itself.  When we suddenly find ourselves sitting amidst the torn wrappings or looking at the remains of the holiday dinner, we feel a big letdown.  Christmas Day itself becomes anticlimactic, and we get the blues as we  dwell on the fact that it’s over, when we should be happy to have had the opportunity to enjoy this holiday with our loved ones once again.

Last summer, when we  were on our cruise to Alaska, we noticed there were floor mats in the elevators with the day of the week printed on them. Now, we could look at those mats each morning and think , “Oh, no, it’s Wednesday already.  Our cruise is almost over”, or we could choose to smile and think, “another beautiful day on this cruise is waiting for me to discover and enjoy.” A simple change of perspective can change the way you live your life.

I must admit  I did let the blues slip in when this experience in Alaska was over. It’s hard to go from a life of pampered leisure on a cruise ship, or a week hiking in a national park, or returning from a part of the world we never thought we’d see, and go back to life as usual, with the harsh reality of work, bills to pay and doctor visits to endure.

But mindfulness teaches us the importance of being present in the moment because this moment is all we really have.  It is pointless to waste it lookinging back, or anticipating the future. In this moment, right now, the sun is shining on a beautiful Saturday morning,. I am writing which gives me great pleasure, I feel good, I’m not in pain, I have much to smile about and I don’t have to be in Alaska to do it. (Although it would be nice…)

So let’s embrace the moments of our lives with attention and joy, and not squander them with regret, but  rather celebrate them with a smile – – because they happened.

Moments

Nothing is worth more than today,
A simple thought — but true,
For the past is just a memory
and no one has promised tomorrow to you.
So embrace today as the moments unfold,
Each one more precious than silver or gold,
Love and be loved, live and forgive,
and show true compassion for all living things
Then you’ll find peace of mind and joy of the soul
And your spirit will soar on gossamer wings.
                                                               pc ‘08

Staying in Focus: Winding Up the Old Year: Fun and Fantasy

Not only are the holidays over, but we are already in the fourth day of the new year.  We just arrived home on Wednesday and  I spent most of the day Thursday taking down the Christmas decorations. We had a great visit with the family in New Jersey and  our friends in Poughkeepsie.  It  was cold and one day we were pretty much snowed in. Big snowflakes floated down all day.IMG_0048

I had brought my laptop along and decided to try a creative writing exercise to pass the time.  The instructions were that the story begin with “The snow fell…”, and end with a twist.  With it being Christmas and all, and snowing to boot, here’s what I came up with.

Where do writers find their inspiration? Perhaps this is how one legend began…

The Stuff of Legends

Snow fell like a box of soap flakes shaken wildly in the hands of a young child.  Large clumps settled on the frozen ground in mounds and drifts of white. The snowflakes fell in curtains, hurtling down in perfect formation from sky to earth , as if with the intent to change the landscape into the vista of an alien world.

The traveler, lost in the folds of his heavy coat, pulled his wide brimmed hat over his eyes and buried his chin into the woolen scarf wrapped round his neck. He walked slowly, tensing his leg muscles to pull his feet free from the heavy, clinging snow, each step an effort which added to his growing fatigue.  He was lost in this frozen wilderness and each flake that touched him seemed to penetrate his clothes, seeking to crystallize him from the inside out.

 An eerie stillness surrounded him, and he felt as if he had been transported to another world.  The silence wrapped round him like a cocoon and ethereal shapes seemed to form and drift before his eyes.

He fought the urge to close his eyes and fall into the downy snow and rest, just for a few minutes. It looked so soft, so inviting…And then he heard the unmistakable sound of tinkling harness bells, somewhere up ahead.  He peered through the curtain of snow and vaguely made out the shapes of horses and a sleigh.

“Whoa-ho, boys,” he heard a voice shout.  And out of the swirling snow emerged a fellow, dressed warmly in furs and sturdy boots, his hair frosted white with snow beneath his cap, cheeks cherry red from the cold.

“My, my, stranger”, he said,” what brings you out on such a night, in such a desolate place?”

“I was on my way to the village of Amesbury to visit friends when I became lost in the snow,“ the traveler replied.                                                                                                                                                                                                         

“Well, let me help you into my sleigh. I’ve never heard of Amesbury but there is a village nearby. I’m sure someone there will shelter you for the night.  I am on my way there to deliver some goods,” he said, pointing to a large sack lying in the back of the sleigh.  

The traveler climbed into the sleigh with a thankful sigh. The hearty fellow jumped in and grabbed the reins.  “Onward-ho, boys,” he shouted to the horses.

Within a few minutes, the traveler saw lights ahead, the warm glow of the village homes, softening the dark and cold of the night.

“Here you are, my friend, the fellow said, “the village of Legend.”

Odd name for a village, the traveler thought. He shook hands with the jolly fellow. “How can I return your kindness, Sir?”  the traveler asked.

“If you would take this sack to the village and leave a package at each abode, I would be most grateful. They are poor but proud.  They frown on handouts, but gifts left in the night, now that’s the stuff of legends.”

. There was that word again – legends.  “Are you a writer, Sir? “ the traveler asked.

The man laughed .” I do dabble with the written word, now and again,” he replied.

The traveler climbed down and grabbed the heavy sack.  “I will do as you ask. Thank you, again, for your kindness.”

“It is I who thank you,.  The storm has slowed my progress and It’s late, you see.  I’ve  a young daughter waiting for me at home,  to tell her a story before bed.”  As he turned and grabbed the reins, he asked, “By the way, what is your name, my friend?”

“Nick. My name is Nick.”

“Ah, and so it is.”  said the fellow.  “Nick it will be..”

“I don’t understand, Sir , what do you mean?”

“Ah, remember, it’s the stuff of legends, my friend.”

And with that his horses sprang forward and disappeared, lost in the heavy snow.“And your name, my friend. What is your name?” Nick shouted into the night.

As if from far away came the faint reply.

“Moore. Clement Moore.”

Nick flung the sack on his back and headed into Legend and into the hearts of us all!                                                       

                                            The End…or the beginning?

Despite the snow, I was able to join some of my high school friends, which included my sister-in-law, Pat,and friends Joanne and Janice for a High Tea at “High Societea”  My niece, Becky, and her friend, Sheralyn, accompanied us.  The food was excellent, although the service was a bit slow.  The place was charming, however, and we had a good time.

A cozy teapot

A cozy teapot

Me at High Societea

Me at High Societea

Becky and Sheralyn

Becky and Sheralyn

Janice

Janice

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We also traveled to Poughkeepsie and visited with our good friends, Denise and Geoff and their daughters and adorable grandchildren.

Abigail and Lucas

Abigail and Lucas

Denise and grandson Colin

Denise and grandson Colin

Melissa

Melissa

Ernie and son Colin

Ernie and son Colin

So we ended 2012 with good times with friends and family.  Now it’s time to look ahead to the new year and all the possibilities it holds in store for us. May it be one of peace and prosperity for us all!