Category Archives: Christmas stories

All I want for Christmas

It’s a good thing I didn’t want any presents this year, of the variety that come wrapped up in paper with beautiful bows because I didn’t get any.

Well, before I commit to an exaggeration, let me think about that. I guess I did get a few small presents.

From Abby and Misha I received a wonderfully soft cotton t-shirt with a great horned owl on the front and back. It reminds me of Hoo2 and what a gift it is that I’ve been able to work at places like Lincoln Park Zoo and Boyd Hill. Abby also got me a good sturdy canvas knitting bag with a sheep print on the front. Those are both great, suit me fine and are entirely useful. “Useful” reminds me that I am so happy that both Dan and Abby learned fairly early that Christmas wasn’t about a big sleigh full of presents. By middle school Daniel appreciated that we were investing in musical instruments and lessons in support of his now life work, gift and passion. At thirteen I told Abby that there would be no more depreciating goods except underwear at Christmas and she needed to think of something that she wanted with lasting value. She said fretfully, “nothing from the mall?” and then cooked my Christmas goose by asking for a kayak trip up the Inside Passage. That started us on a decade of the most amazing travel adventures, trips we took together that gave us a lifetime of colorful memories and launched her commitment  to the seas and environment. (Everyone still always gets new underwear, pjs or socks for Christmas.)

(Abby working on her dissertation proposal on sustainable coastal ecology, with her little LED USB Christmas tree.)

From the women I teach to make felt in Sugar Hollow I got a lovely pillow with a beautiful silk screen of birds at a feeder. Perfect choice for me. It reminds me of another gift from a friend, a beautiful collage painting of my birch tree in Ann Arbor, with all of the birds feeding.

My friend Cathy gave a Guatemalan child enough food for a month, from me. This made me so happy I cried. Every day in January, a child is not going hungry because of the gift she gave on my behalf. I was just overwhelmed. I’m going to reciprocate by giving enough diapers for a month for one of her little orphans there. Cathy’s gift also reminded me of the best Christmas gift I ever received from Rich and that was the first year when we were still courting. He was also trying to win favor with Abby that year, so he gave enough to care for all of the cats in one enclosure for a year at the humane society and the cage had an engraved plate on it that said, “We are being cared for by Vicki and Abby Bennett.” Gifts that care for those in need are wonderful gifts.

(Despite a plethora of bubble wrap and neatly folded waxed paper, these always arrive broken. They are that perfectly crisp.)

My sister Betsy gave me my all time favorite Christmas treat: dark chocolate cookie press cookies. She makes them like nobody else in the whole wide world. All of us girls us Gramma Moe’s recipe but Betsy’s are always truly fantastic and far superior. They are the most perfect thin crisps of ridged chocolate and with a glass of red wine, late on Christmas night- well, that’s a bit of Heaven. And every year they remind me of the year I was pregnant with Daniel and absolutely miserable with morning noon and night sickness of the sort where they threaten to dump your belly in the hospital with IV hydration. She sent those cookies and that was the only reason I was able to survive and give birth to my first-born love, Daniel. So the cookies mean a lot to me. Betsy is also the Queen of Wrap. No matter what she sends, the paper is lovely, the ribbon divine, the gift tags perfect classy bits, printed on re-cycled papers and covered with birds and bees. We have similar taste, but like the cookies, her wrapping is always done just so while mine has a corner poking through here and a patched in strip of paper there where I was being too stingy on the original cut. This is the first year I’ve failed to get her gift to her on time and since it was already late I went out early this morning for the day after Christmas sale on Christmas items, including wrapping papers. I wouldn’t have done it for anyone but her and I know next year this morning’s headache will be back to delight me. Now to the post office.


My neighbor, the Other Vicki, (she and husband Ken are the world vagabonds who spend a giant portion of each year traveling on his airline passes from life as a pilot) out did herself and opening the bag from her revealed a treasure trove of goodies: a bottle of olive oil from my favorite place in Tuscany, spices from the casbah in Turkey, a small bag of paprika from Hungary, a lovely star ornament she made in ceramics class and three exceptionally cool stones from oceans far, far away- the Black Sea, the Aegean. We didn’t know Other Vicki and Ken when Rich and I got married so she doesn’t know that on our wedding invitations we asked people to please not give us any gifts because there was absolutely nothing we needed more than their friendship- but if they insisted on a gift, a stone or a shell from a place that they loved would be nice. As a result we have some really super stones, including Petoskey stones from Lake Michigan and some from the Holy Land in Jerusalem . So Other Vicki’s gift reminded me not only of how much I love stones from special places but also that there is absolutely nothing I really need more than a good stone.

All of these reminders were good because Rich , as usual, struggled this year in the gift department. He’s never been especially good at holiday times (that is a kind understatement) and the entire family laughingly tells him it’s time to go to CVS at 11pm Christmas Eve so he can buy gas and Starbucks gift cards off the revolving rack. This year he left late Christmas eve afternoon, right when I needed help around the house, to go to Target where he bought a screw driver for Misha, a rocket blender for Abby and four beer glasses “for the house.” (this was written on the wrapping paper in ink). Neither of us drink enough beer to need a dedicated glass. Sophie, by comparison, made out like a bandit. I think it was with embarrassment and humor that he chose a comic card with the punch line reading, “cuz you’re in charge of picking it out.”  After a day of feeling irritable about it, I finally found his gift to me: remembering that there’s not a single thing I needed and not much that I want to clutter up my life at this point. Cliche that it is, the truth is most certainly that Christmas is not about stuff. Rich’s inability to go Christmas shopping is not indicative of his feelings for me. I have no idea why he is holiday challenged; the therapist in me is quite certain that it goes back to his childhood in some similar fashion to my need to have Christmas be perfect and shiny bright. I’m remembering that he works very very hard to provide for us and that we live, relative to most everybody else in the world, among the rich and well nourished. And in my effort to stop being childish, I was able to  remember all of the kindnesses that he shows me, including his love for the children (and Sophie), his weekly letters to my stepfather Bud at the nursing home, wonderful travel to see the world and the random acts of compassion and kindness he shows towards others. He stood up from the Christmas dinner table yesterday and packed up an enormous plate, got in the car and drove it over to a homeless man he’s befriended. In other words, his gift to me is that he makes me work a bit on my attitude. And as grudging as I was when I set out to adjust my attitude this morning, I now remember all of these amazing gifts. Thank you, Rich.

(I also got a bouquet of flowers Rich picked from the yard- a reminder that I am basking in the warmth and beauty of our surrounds here at the bungalow.)

What did you get for Christmas?

(Here’s something else I got for Christmas. Bonnie came by and left one of her kind comments, which I always love. What, no poem?? And I re-read my post and realized that the paragraph about Rich, as I originally wrote it, was kind of snarky. So I made yet another attitude adjustment. Good deal.)

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Deck the halls with Bucky Balls

Last night, I tuned in here for the first time in months. It was so embarrassing that the last thing posted was a recipe for chili dogs that I couldn’t even bear to come and I was virtually certain the whole place would have been consumed with pornographic spam by now. But, no, here was a comment from Bonnie, rubbing in a Spartan victory, per usual and the only thing that has really changed is that I now, after some time living in agricultural heaven, have more respect for what us Wolverines refer to as “Cow Colleges”. In fact, one of my new favorite institutions of higher learning is Warren Wilson, where many a starter person is learning that a good place to start is in the dirt under our feet.

Once here, I went back aways reviewing older posts, mostly because I was looking for a couple I wrote around the time my mother died to share with a friend who has recently lost her remaining parent to the ravages of old age. Makes no difference your age, becoming an orphan makes you childlike in your heart. When I found those posts, I cried a little,remembering my mother, my childhood, Christmases past.

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever return to writing routinely, keeping this site up as a sort of journal. It was good for me when I did and over time I matured from slapping up pure silliness to trying, at least part of time, to capture the feeling and color of my day to day life. But life is busy and now feltmaking has become the thing that always calls for my time and attention. I do know that I’m not ready to give it up altogether.

Here we are in Florida and even though our preparations are sort of slap dash since we only arrived from Asheville two days ago, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. As usual the best laid plans for homemade Christmas cards and many of the items I planned to craft have fallen by the wayside but enough has been done: everyone will get their scarf and the life-size animated light up moose is swaying his antlers in the front yard. The amaryllis, carefully transported in the car, are all abloom and the only Christmas cookies that really matter (chocolate cookie press cookies) are in tins on the counter. The Animals Christmas is playing in the background and I love when Art Garfunkel sings The Friendly Beasts. Once as a child, I got to be the donkey, all shaggy and brown, in the Sunday school Christmas pageant. As is our tradition the Swedish angel chimes go ding, ding, ding every night and leave melted wax on the mantel that needs to be scraped up each morning. The small wooden creche with the Matchbox John Deere tractor that 2 year old Daniel gave to baby Jesus is up on the sideboard as it has been every year for the past thirty. The little rituals of life continue to carry us from season to season and year to year. So, I guess you know what that means…

I posted this for the first time several years ago. There’s a lot of truth in it, despite the flights of fancy. Whatever else, it is a memory of my childhood: Christmas, my father, the Ford Rotunda and things that mattered and still do. I wish you a most wonderful holiday, filled with the magic and mystery of childhood. I wish for us all the quality of life that Buckminster Fuller envisioned.)

R. Buckminster Fuller was friends with Boston artist Pietro Pezzati, singer John Denver and also, my father. Even though my father was but half his age.
Bucky came into my life at Christmas time, in 1953. I was three years and three months old. Do I remember him? Yes, I do.

Although we lived in a Pete Seeger ticky-tacky post war house and not a Dymaxion House, he came to dinner one night in early December. And he pet our giant gray and white cat, Ike. As in, “I Like Ike.”

It was a Friday night and that was fortunate because on all the other nights of the week we ate tuna noodle casserole, spam with brown sugar and New England boiled dinner. On Fridays we dined on fish and chips from Suzie Q’s, located at the corner of Woodward and 8 Mile Rd. It came in yellow cardboard pie-plates stapled together to form a dome of sorts, although not geodesic. The fish was sole and there were crinkle cut french fries and a giant blueberry muffin. Food fit for a king and also Bucky.

My father and Buckminster had been working together on a project for Ford Motor Company for over a year and they were nearing the end of their joint effort, the Ford Rotunda. An architectural wonder originally built for the Century of Progress Exposition (aka, the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair), the building was moved to Dearborn, Michigan in 1936 and closed to the public during WWII. Described as “ultra-modern”, the Rotunda reopened as part of Ford’s 50th anniversary celebration on June 16, 1953. A radioactive wand (the tip contained a small amount of radium), said to be symbolic of the arrival of industry at the threshold of the atomic age, turned on golden floodlights and lighted 50 huge birthday candles around the rim of the Rotunda. The wand bombarded a Geiger tube with 44,890,832 gamma ray impulses in 15 seconds. The final impulse (the number signified the number of vehicles produced by Ford since 1903) was said to trigger the electrical system. But most people would come to associate the Rotunda with an annual Christmas display called the Christmas Fantasy, which first opened on Dec. 15, 1953. In the last two weeks of that December over 500,000 people would visit the Christmas Fantasy at the Rotunda.

Back at our ticky tacky little house my mother and father were in the kitchen unpacking Susie Q’s fish and chips. My brother was in the den, watching the 10 inch diameter black and white TV screen housed in the 38 inch console. It was Howdy Doody Time. Bucky sat on the sofa petting Ike and I sat on the floor staring up at him through 1/2 inch thick eyeglasses which didn’t really fit a 3 year old all that well. Blind in one eye, my world was blurry, to say the least. And then Bucky (Mr. Fuller, to me) said something quite odd.

“Listen, little billionaire, have you considered the benefits of polyphasic sleep? You may not remember when this was second nature to you, but you should practice this all throughout your life. You’ll get more done.” Then he said, “Excuse me momentarily” and he stretched out on the sofa, without removing his shoes, and instantly fell asleep. Ike and I watched him until my father came in about seven minutes later and announced that dinner was out of the bag. Bucky sat up, blinked and said, “Better now!” and we all went into the kitchen (for want of a dining room) and sat down to Susie Q’s.

I only saw R. Buckminster Fuller one more time and that was a few weeks later when we went to the opening of A Christmas Fantasy. I was dressed in my best dress and leggings, patent leather shoes, a wool coat, matching hat, a rabbit fur muff and those ridiculous glasses.

I should take a moment to note that my father was not a distinguished architect, a man of radical philosophical beliefs or a great visionary. He was an Ohio farm boy who grew up, went to war, married young and formulated plans to sell Ford tractors. It’s true that he was exceptionally good at coming up with ideas to sell tractors. My father and Buckminster Fuller were an unlikely pair and yet in some fashion, they became a pair around the building and promotion of the Ford Rotunda.

And so, we were among the first in line. We arrived in the late afternoon while it was graying but still light and stood in a cluster of VIPs and their children. A red and white bow, far larger than I, was tied across the winged entrance and someone, while my feet grew colder and colder in those patent leather shoes, said some things about the wonders we would see and cut the bow with a flourish and a giant pair of scissors. We filed in and the magic began. It was snowing inside! Inside the biggest igloo of a building you could ever imagine- it was snowing! In the center of the igloo stood a Christmas tree 4 stories high with thousands upon thousands of lights and shiny ornaments.

I slipped my mother’s grasp. You can see that her attention is elsewhere; that’s little me, the smallest child, in the dark coat and cap (too bad you can’t see the disproportionately large eyeglasses). And I ran to the tree: I needed to touch it and smell it, to feel the bright hot colored lights, to brush snow from the limbs. I stood transfixed and then, from inside the branches of the tree, I heard a familiar voice.“Ah, my little billionaire! What do you think of my tensegrity structure?”

“It’s very nice, Mr. Fuller.”

“Yes, in here, there is no sunsight or sunclipse, but only the endless recycling of sustainable snow. Oh, and be sure to stop by Santa’s workshop. The elves are building toy Ford tractors on the assembly line.”

My mother came then and reclaimed me. I’m certain she was unaware of Mr. Fuller sitting on a branch inside the tree. We moved on and saw all that there was to see.

There was ‘The Night Before Christmas’, an almost lifesize house with Rudolf snorting puffs of steam impatiently on the rooftop while Santa emptied his sack under the tree. Story Book Land came to life, with Hansel and Gretel, Little Boy Blue, Puss in Boots, Little Bo Peep and Humpty Dumpty animated by machines performing around a vast Santa Claus castle. The best was a 15,000-piece miniature circus with a parade, a 10-piece band on a wagon pulled by a 10-horse team, a steam calliope and 800 tiny animals, 30 tents, 435 performers and a full audience, all in a scale of 1/2 inch to the foot. In addition to the circus, we saw a rustic barn dance, a shopping center with a doll beauty shop, animated dolls representing children of all nations, and woodland creatures frolicking in the snow. The blur of partial blindness only enhanced the wondrous effect.

The Nativity included a life-size manger scene set in a lean-to built into the side of a hill, with a huge star glowing in the heavens. (In 1958 Ford would receive a commendation from the National Council of Churches for emphasizing the spirit of Christmas with what the Council determined was “the largest and finest Nativity scene in the United States.”)

In the end, all roads led to Santa, but I was tired and tiny and shy when it came time to sit on his lap. My father said, “Hop up, Tadpole” and so I did. And here is what Santa said to me, speaking ever so softly and near enough to my ear that his beard tickled:

“And what would you like for Christmas, my little billionaire?”

I thought ‘how strange’, at least in the sense that a three year old can think ‘how strange’ but I answered, “Santa, a bride doll, please.”

And Santa responded, “Well, little B, you would be wiser to want an Operating Manual for the Spaceship Earth. It will teach you that through ephemeralization and synergetics we can waste not and want not and the worldaround will be populated by 4 billion billionaires, each able to enjoy Susie Q’s fish and chips whenever they wish. You will come to understand that less is more and cooperation is the optimal survival strategy. This manual explains how selfishness is unnecessary and irrational, and war is obsolete. It explains how we can recycle both our knowledge and our materials to live ever more fulfilling lives. Wouldn’t you rather have that for Christmas instead?”

I considered a minute, as much as a three year old can consider, and said, “Ummm, no thank you, Santa. I think my brother wants a spaceship but I would like a bride doll.”

And then my father was there and said, “Hop down, Tadpole.” And I did and we held hands and walked out of that fantastical place with the never-ending warm snow and I fell asleep in the car on the way home.

That Christmas Santa brought me precisely the bride doll I wished for. She was as tall as I was and had eyes that opened and closed and the most beautiful of bride’s dresses. My brother Bruce got a model tractor rather than a spaceship.

I don’t recall what became of that bride doll after her hair tangled and I lost interest and now I often wish I had accepted the Operating Manual for the Spaceship Earth. But that is hindsight rather than foresight and hindsight is usually the path not taken, yes? (This is the end of my Christmas story)

____________________________________________________________

Buckminster Fuller died at the age of 88, a decade before my father did. He was a guru of design, architecture, and ‘alternative’ communities. He was (hopelessly) optimistic that if we carefully, conscientiously and thoughtfully managed our resources there could be high quality life for all the creatures of the earth.
When his wife was comatose and dying of cancer he visited her in the hospital. At some point he exclaimed: “She is squeezing my hand!”. When he stood up, he suffered a massive heart attack and died within the hour. His wife died 36 hours later. John Denver wrote the song “What One Man Can Do” for Fuller. A new allotrope of carbon (fullerene) and a particular molecule of that allotrope (buckminsterfullerene or buckyballs) have been named after him.

If you want to know more about Fuller, Buckminster Fuller’s Universe, His Life and Work by Lloyd Sieden (ISBN 0738203793), explores Fuller’s personal life, his beliefs and important contributions to society. Designed to be the showcase of the auto industry, the Ford Rotunda was opened to the public on May 14, 1936. The original steel framework was covered with Indiana limestone, forming a design representing a stack of gears, decreasing in size towards the top. Located on Schaefer Road, across from the Ford Administration building, the circular structure had an open courtyard 92 feet in diameter and a wing on either side.Huge murals on the walls depicted the manufacture of the Ford automobile. Exhibits were changed regularly, but Ford products always took center stage. 

The grounds contained reproductions of 19 historic Roads of the World: the Appian Way from Italy, the Tokaido Road in Japan, the Grand Trunk Road in India, a Mayan road from the Yucatan, the Oregon Trail and a wooden plank section of Woodward Avenue from the earliest days of that thoroughfare.

Besides its own attractions, the Rotunda served as the gateway for tours of the Rouge Plant. In 1960, the Rotunda ranked behind only Niagara Falls, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, The Smithsonian Institution and the Lincoln Memorial as a national tourist destination. It was more popular than Yellowstone National Park, Mount Vernon, the Washington Monument and the Statue of Liberty.

The building was closed to the public during World War II, and following the war underwent a massive remodeling in 1952, in which the courtyard was covered with an 18,000 pound dome. The weight of a conventional dome, 320,000 pounds, would have crushed the structure, so Ford turned to R. Buckminster Fuller, who came up with the design, the first commercial application of his experimental geodesic dome. Later, Buckminster Fuller would perfect his concept of tensegrity to the degree that he could cover the same 92 foot diameter area with a permanent, secure dome weighing less than 3,000 pounds.

The preparations for the 1962 Christmas display were well under way when disaster struck on Nov. 9. While workers applied tar to the dome as weatherproofing, they kept it warm with an infrared heater. The tar caught fire. Shortly after 1 p.m., an employee saw flames on the ceiling of the main floor, and gave the alarm as workmen raced down from the roof. Sheets of flames shot 50 feet high. The black smoke was visible for miles.In less than an hour the Rotunda lay in ruins. The Christmas Fantasy was completely lost to the flames. All that was saved were the Christmas tree, which had not been put in place, the 2,500 Goodfellow dolls shown yearly which had not been delivered, and the miniature circus, which had been packed into trunks and was ready to move in.

My father did, in fact, work with Buckminster Fuller on the geodesic dome aspect of the Rotunda and they became friends. A Christmas Fantasy was an integral part of the Christmases of my childhood.


The Night Buckminster Fuller Came To Dinner- part 2

Oh, no, not THAT story again. You have to admit it is a good one. My father and Buckminster Fuller conspired to make Christmas magical for thousands with the Ford Rotunda. And Christmas should be a magical time for children and it is, of course, a miracle time for Christians. It’s a great holiday even if you’re not because it’s about getting a GREAT BIG GIFT for nothing and the very thought of it can make you feel special. For ME??? That’s for me?? Whether it’s Emmanuel or a new Wii Fit Plus, it’s big.

The Christmas season when I was 6, maybe a year or so after Buckminster Fuller passed ever so briefly through my life, was another time in my childhood that left a big impression on my life. In Detroit, where I was growing up, there were two major Christmas events. The Ford Rotunda Christmas Show was one and the other was the Hudson’s Thanksgiving Day parade. At that time, in the fifties, there was the Macy’s Parade in New York and the Hudson’s Parade in Detroit.  The J.L Hudson Co. was the tallest and second largest (after Macy”s) department store in the country. Preparations for the parade began each year in the warehouse on Brush Street and it was from there that the floats and the giant paper mache heads that predated balloons would begin the parade route, ending in front of the main entrance to the store on Woodward Avenue. There, Santa would climb out of his sleigh and mount the steps up to the podium where he would be given the keys to the city and tell all the girls and boys everywhere to be good, because he was on his way. The night before the parade, the floats would be fitted onto and over the tractors that would drive them through the streets of Detroit. Long time readers will recall that my father worked in sales and marketing in the Ford tractor division and in the same way that his position got us access to the best of the Ford Rotunda, it also got us within arm’s reach of Santa’s sleigh being readied for the big parade. That year when I was six my father took my brother and me down to the warehouse the night before to watch the parade preparations and the next morning, Thanksgiving, we had front row seats to watch Santa arrive. I don’t remember my mother in this scene; perhaps it is just my memory or perhaps it is that they were dividing and conquering the holiday since there was still a baby at home or perhaps it was that they were already beginning to drift apart, even in their care of us children.

That year I also clearly remember the gift that I got and the gift that we did not get. I got a bride doll, almost as tall as I was. She was quite stunning, in a cheap plastic sort of way. The gift we didn’t get was the giant coffee table book (just coming into vogue back then) called The UnderSea World. Sometime between the parade and Christmas my brother- two years older and far, far wiser- had us snooping around under my parent’s bed looking for hidden presents and we found the book. What a magnificent book! We were so lost in looking at the amazing photographs of jellyfish and octopus that we didn’t even hear my mother come in to discover us with the goods in hand. Lord, was she angry. That is my first memory of my mother losing her temper with us in a crazy irrational way. She raged and raged and ended her tirade with, “And don’t think that book is a Christmas gift for you!”  I’m not sure what was fueling her anger but now I realize that married life was beginning to sour for her so it’s likely that we were just collateral damage. In any case, we never did see that book again and even now I am amazed and dismayed by that. Aren’t all things forgiven when Christmas day finally arrives? Isn’t there peace on earth and goodwill towards all?

Apparently not. Family life can be brutal and nothing brings it out quite like the holidays. Christmas stirs up memories and swells expectations and involves a lot of hard work. From that year on, until almost the time that my mother died, I remember mostly the stress of getting ready for Christmas. She never stopped wanting it to be perfect and she never stopped trying to make it so and always, inevitably, something went wrong. Marriages failed, finances plummeted, moves created distances too great. The roast burned, the tree dried up too soon, the scotch tape ran out. And damn the half-burned out strings of lights.

This year, even as I quite ironically miss my mother right now, I am flooded with the memory of that time when innocence went poof! and I saw the downside of family life at Christmas. And I see, in my life, some of the same hopes and expectations and disappointments that my mother experienced. I suspect they are universal.

This year, after I made my grandmother’s chocolate cookie press cookies I wrapped up the cookie press and the recipe card that my mother had written out for me some 30 years ago-“Grandma Moe’s cookie press cookies”- and gave it to Abby. I also gave her a big beautiful book, National Geographic Great Migrations. Every year I give a giant glossy book to the kids. Our family that will visit has come and gone and that’s sort of sad and sort of a relief. In other years I would be, right this minute, living out my mother’s Christmas aspirations, still wrapping gifts, matching paper to ribbon to tags and trying to compose just the right message, because, you know it’s not enough to just write “Merry Christmas.” It has to be erudite and memorable. But I’m already done with all that. The packages are mailed, some will arrive late. The cards are sitting on my desk, not yet written; maybe tomorrow I’ll do that. We had our Christmas dinner tonight and the roast was perfectly rare, perfectly tender. I’m not in a kerchief, but I am under warm flannel sheets with Rich and two cats on the bed and everything is easy. Tomorrow we’ll call the children and then we might go to the movies or just sit by the fire and read and eat leftovers. Peace and goodwill will prevail because we are not soured on marriage and in fact, we’re quite in love with one another. It will probably snow. And since there will be only the two of us and it will sort of be just another day, we’ll have that much more time to consider that it’s Christmas.

I hope your Christmas has all the magic and delight of your earliest childhood memories. If it falls short, well, maybe there’s still the possibility of peace on earth and goodwill toward all. Merry Christmas!

It was a long tunnel. I was going to the light.

And the jack-hammers banging. Where were we? Oh, yes. I had just had an MRI on my brain and was waiting for the results. I guess it doesn’t take a therapist to interpret how it was that I lost my cell phone that I had been carefully clutching all day right when the doctor was due to call to discuss the results.

I had the MRI early in the morning just before leaving Florida for the mountain house where we are now until the end of the year. I had it because I’ve had some unilateral hearing loss in one ear that, upon further investigation, made the neurologist (a whiney little guy who mumbled into his left shoulder words like “tumor”  and “brain scan” while I kept saying, “what? huh? WHAT?”) think that he would like to see what was going on in the far reaches of my brain. MRIs of your brain are miserable hour-long affairs that don’t hurt at all, beyond the needle prick of dye being injected but they surely are uncomfortable. Don’t move, don’t move, don’t move, don’t blink, don’t lick your lips, don’t move and oh, btw, don’t mind the claustrophobia. I wasn’t even going to get the test because I like living in complete and total denial when it comes to things like the possibility of a brain tumor, but then we got notice that our insurance deductible for 2011 is 5000.00 per year. Per person. I was apoplectic.

Eventually I found my phone and sure enough, had missed the call, but finally my doc and I connected. The MRI gives not a single hint as to why my hearing has gone caflooey on the right side- no tumor there, nothing on the cranial nerve that had the neurologist concerned, sinuses are clear. However. About those two areas of demyelination in the left cerebral hemisphere…WHAT? HUH? Apparently those need explaining. There are several sort of semi-alarming possibilities so I have another appointment in January. Maybe. Actually, I don’t need to go to the doctor because I know exactly what they are. One is the spot that keeps me from finishing sentences and the other is the spot that makes it so I can’t remember which movie I saw last week. Frankly, this is not new news and I’ve been living in this slightly adulpated state forever, just ask my children and there is no other symptomatology whatsoever. Except for the punctuation problem. This is again a reminder of why my father’s advice was good: If you get sick, make yourself well again (preferably by working harder). If you think you might be sick, avoid doctors at all cost.

So now, as it stands, I’m partially deaf and totally blind on the right side. I was considering calling one of those social security disability claim lawyers on afternoon television but instead I ordered Oliver Sacks new book, The Mind’s Eye. He writes about the resilient brain and the process of compensation, how people make up for what they have lost. He’s written several other interesting books that I’ve read, including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat but this one he wrote after, fairly recently, losing his vision in one eye. I wonder if he’s noticed yet that no matter how well his brain finds ways to compensate for no depth perception or peripheral vision, he will never be able to appreciate those dot pictures they sell at the mall. If he wants, I can give him a tip on how to cheat the peripheral vision part of the driver’s license test. I can also tell him that, should his spouse snore inordinately loud, diminished hearing in one ear has its benefits. Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading the book with my one good eye.

I have some other news to share. Our grandbaby is here to visit. Kellan is our first; he is Rich’s Anna’s 3 month old. This I will share in pictures. And you’ll be either jealous or really happy for us or both.

I tidied up the house, baked the cookies and put up the tree so there would be lights and shiny things to look at…

I made up the guest room, including the crib that is now holding a fifth generation.

And Rich went to the airport to pick them up and this is how happy he is. (This photo makes me all teary happy. Both eyes, incidentally, cry.)

And it’s a whole new world with so many amazing and wonderful things to see.

I wish I had a river*

I like that song. I was listening to Sarah McLachlan’s version of it this afternoon while wrapping a few odds and ends to put under our listing faux tree with most of the lights burned out. All I’ve got to say is it’s a darn good thing I can vaguely, if I try hard, remember the reason for the season. It’s to rejoice about health care reform, right? Just kidding, Bonnie. Earlier in the day, I scrummed around in the back of my brain (and heart) trying to get in touch with the part that fully appreciates the GREAT BIG GIFT but I was also busy chasing down the cheapest and simultaneously least flimsy and cartoonish gift wrap I could find at CVS. CVS is not really the place to get in touch with your inner Christian (Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, etc.), btw.

It doesn’t feel much like Christmas around here and even though my mother, damn her, has been nagging me to make all 6 of the traditional family cookies, have the perfectly trimmed tree, put an orange in the toe of each and every stocking and put really nice ribbon on every precisely wrapped gift, here are the facts of the matter:

All my cookie cutters and my rolling pin and the Lenox tiered cookie plate are somewhere in Cincinnati and it’s been so long since I’ve seen my “stuff” that got boxed up and hauled off to storage when we left Chicago that I can’t remember if I even like it or want it anymore. Except, now, I miss the hefty smooth wood of my grandmother’s rolling pin and I think that’s the only thing of hers I own so I’m having a little breakdown over the rolling pin. But that’s not the real issue. The real bugger is we have no children or family with us for Christmas this year.

Abigail graduated (with bells and whistles. More on that soon) and left two days later for Russia. She’s with Misha’s family somewhere south, near Georgia and the Black Sea.  They flew to Moscow and then took a 27 hour train ride to his town; that seemed impossibly long to me but when I looked at the maps it started to make sense. They had never met Abby and his family was so pleased to see them that everybody turned out with signs and confetti to greet them at the train station- the parents, brother,cousins and aunts, uncles, neighbors. Abby has sent some pictures and it all looks very close knit and Russian. I can only imagine how happy his mother must be to have him for these few weeks, along with my daughter. But I’m glad for them, that they are able to be there. They both worked a lot of extra hours, especially Misha, so they could go and if their luggage was any measure they took half of Best Buy with them. Abby told me on Skype that the other day they got up at 530 am and that whole big crowd piled into a van and drove to the highest peak in Europe. Except it’s in Russia. It’s Mt Elbrus. I had to look that one up it was so puzzling and then I also google-earthed it to try and feel closer to her but it looks so vast and distant that I ended up feeling further away. I’ll talk to her tomorrow again on Skype. Here are two pictures she sent.
(Keeping up with her can be a challenge.)

(Does he look like a spy to you? Sometimes I worry about that. Do those lifts look safe? I think not. )

Anyway. She’ll be gone for her birthday, too. Technically, winging her way back here on Singapore Air but not yet home. Daniel is in Ann Arbor, busy with his friends (actually, it’s a woman and I haven’t met her and I’m sure I’m not supposed to talk about that here at all) and he’s also getting ready to head out for a west coast tour in January with NOMO so I won’t see him for another while and I’m not happy about that, either. Rich’s girls (well, they are my girls, too, but we still sort of say my kids, your girls, whatever. Blended families. But we think of them all as “the kids.”) are in their respective places, with work and lives of their own (the nerve) so there you go. No children for Christmas.

Bud is in assisted living now, having made the transition from independent living. He’s in the same nice place and I asked him what the differences were and he said, “Well, there are two. One is they give me my pills instead of me taking them myself. (or not, somewhat related to the move). The other is, every fifteen minutes they say to me, “Bud, are you where you’re supposed to be?” ” He seems somewhat more vague but he is still cognizant of the loss of independence he enjoyed at Lost Loon Lodge. He does have a new “friend” of the female persuasion and I’m happy about that. When he talks about her, it’s ridiculously giddy and more lustful than I want to think about. It makes him a lot less lonely. But where did my mother go? She’s still around, in lots of nooks and crannies but you know, it’s kind of painful. Bud asked me to send him the folder with all my mother’s papers-her journals and press clippings from her environmental efforts and the obits and what have you- that he left in my safe keeping. He wants to share them with the people in his “retirement place”. I pulled them out of the file drawer yesterday and I just glanced through them; that was enough to let me know that I didn’t want to send them off directly because they might get misplaced and they might also be more upsetting to Bud than he’s thinking. But really, that’s not my decision to make. They are his papers after all. I guess I’ll send them to my sister and let her figure it out.

I am going on a bit here, especially considering I’ve been in the woodwork for a while. Ah, me. Anyway, back to the reason for the season. Late this afternoon, even though we had early dinner plans with our good neighbor friends, I drove down to feed Shadow and Thinman, the red shouldered hawks at Boyd Hill. They are my new charges. (Terrible photo quality, taken on Rich’s cell phone. But yes, this work makes me happy.)

Last season I had Wheezer and Stretch, the ESOs but now I’m hand feeding the two hawks as well. I drive through the south side of St. Petersburg to get there; I like the eclectic mix of bail bond places, liquor stores, community centers, Harry’s Hot Garlic Crabs and churches that I pass before I hit the lakeshore at the edge of the nature preserve, where it all changes to great blue herons, cormorants and gators. One of the church signs read, “Let Earth Receive Her King!” and I was reminded how we refer to Him as him and the earth as Her. The earth part makes perfect sense to me. At the risk of sacrilege, He, at least as the stories go, had more of the attributes that we generally think of as feminine. Nurturing, conciliatory, gentle and forgiving. I was discussing that with Shadow while feeding her slices of beef heart and she pointed out to me that she is the more assertive and dominant of the two Red Shoulders. She also pointed out that it is my religious holiday so it’s not entirely equitable that she will be having a fasting day tomorrow. In any case-Earth or King, both- appreciating a gift of this magnitude definitely transcends nit picky issues like gender. It’s important to accept a gift in the Spirit in which it is given.

In keeping with the spirit of the season (not the Christmas one. The bad economy season.) Rich and I decided to veer away from material goods this year and focus on the wonderful things we are blessed with (which don’t include health insurance or children home for Christmas). I made Christmas cards (of wool felt, naturally. Overly ambitious, naturally. Effen glue gun mess, naturally) and I packaged up gifts and Rich waited in line at the post office where we paid a lot of money to mail things priority only to hear that northern snows meant none of it was getting there on time in any case. And then we went shopping for each other. We set an absolute 50.00 limit on what we spent and settled on Target, drove together, got two carts and headed off in opposite directions. I got hung up in that dollar corral where it’s mostly Little Kitty schlock but I did find him a very high quality wooden and metal hanger for his belts and ties. I saw a lot of things I would pick for myself under 50.00- little kitchen gadgets and garden gloves but then I refocused and found about 5 more things Rich will like and checked out at 49.67. Rich got closer at 49.83. I guess I’m getting more presents. Then I went back through Target and bought the cats the most expensive gift- another fancy variation on the scratching post idea that they will ignore like every other. After that we went with the hoi polloi to Steak n Shake and had paper-thin hamburgers. My body hardly rebelled at all to such a minimal invasion of beef. That was a lot of fun, those few hours together, so we’ll probably make it a new tradition. Heaven knows we don’t need anymore stuff than we already have. Somewhere. In storage in Cincinnati. The main thing is this: Rich and I will be spending a peaceful, loving and quiet time together, just enjoying each other . For part of the day, we will drive down and visit old friends from Michigan who have a place on Anna Maria Island. It will be a good Christmas, even without children, parents, brothers or sister. I just miss everybody. That’s all.

And finally, in the end, along with trips north to see Bud and Abby’s graduation, I got so busy making felt art for gallery sales that I didn’t have the time or, ultimately the inclination, to make really nice gifts for all the people who matter to me most. Sigh. However, I did make you a card, with a dove on it. Here it is:

It’s past midnight and I can actually hear the church bells ringing because here in Florida we have our windows open tonight. It’s officially Christmas. Merry Christmas to you all. You are my friends and I wish you peace and health and happiness.

*It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
I wish I had a river I could skate away on…

(Joni Mitchell)

What? You came looking for Buckminster Fuller?

Although I did (Christmas miracle!) update this site last night in the post above, Bucky is HERE. I still love this post and the memories it brings of my childhood Christmases. It still gets many hits when folks do a search for Fuller or the Ford Rotunda. I think the photos of the Ford Rotunda have expired since I first posted it three years ago in 2006, so here is the image. Have a most wonderful Christmas.

And it’s a wonder the silver dragees didn’t kill us in our sleep

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I wasn’t sure we would make it out of Chicago but that’s the way it is when you travel at Christmas, isn’t it? The last hour of rushing around maniacally slapping ribbons and name tags on gifts is nerve racking. I always have to re-open several to remember what they are and who they are for. I am making sure the kitties leave their cookies for Santa and the neighbor, as his representative, has their gift-which Sophie will be revisiting, already soggy with tooth marks, since she discovered and enjoyed it twice, in the three days before we left- and screaming at each other: Did you turn the heat down? Did you give McCloud his poop medicine? Do you have those thumb drives off my desk? and so forth and so on.

But here we are in Kalamazoo-zoo-zoo, tucked in cozily between my sister’s beautiful Victorian and the B and B five doors down. This year, there are the three sisters plus spouses plus children (my two, Laurel’s one), Bud safe and sound from the U.P. and Betsy’s two cats. One of the cats has set the world’s record for longest active case of rabies and never has there been a more fearsome and crazy cat. He guards the stairs and if anyone needs to go up we have to yell, “Betsy! Come get Cujo Claus so I can go to the bathroom!” Yes, he is indeed named after Santa. Go figure. Bruce and Alison remain in Massachusetts this year, with plans to come to St. Petersburg for Bud’s 80th birthday in February. (We might go to Disney World, dammit.)
Bud made it down by the whiskers of his chin. Hospitalized for kidney problems, electrolyte imbalance and atrial fibrillation, he was released and packed on the small SAAB prop plane by the visiting nurse with the notion that he was better off under the watchful eyes of his family for a week than alone in the North Woods. Laurel had been with him for a few days at the hospital in Marquette, 150 miles from Lost Loon Lodge, but she needed to make a stop back in Wisconsin to tie up loose ends before coming down here, so he had 48 hours to get his own self organized for Christmas. We all accept, with some anxiety, that Bud has made his choice to stay at his small cluttered, beautiful cottage in the tip of the Keweenaw and we will all, Bud included, live and die with the consequences. And so it goes. I understand his wishes: there is no place else I know of where a person could get such a stunning picture of the night sky behind tall jack pines, all those stars brightly shining. I even know the precise latitude and longitude, for it’s right near the place we scattered my mother. And it was late summer, not winter- but then we don’t know for sure where and when that star was shining in the East, do we? One more thing we take on faith.
Betsy and her husband teach at Western Michigan University and last year we did Christmas in Chicago so it’s a relief to be here. It’s warm and cozy with a fragrant and fat Christmas tree, a warm fireplace, lovely stained glass windows, a brand new gorgeous kitchen with a butler’s pantry bigger than either of my kitchens (not that I’m going on and on with envy in bed last night, explaining to Rich why I deserve, in this life time, a kitchen worthy of me.). Betsy’s house feels very much like a family home.

So, this is Christmas. With five inches of beautiful new snow last night and my family and children at hand, I am happy. In lots of ways, it was a tough year with annoying concerns about health issues, worries about the state of the economy and more, the state of the world and all the usual fussing about the children. There’s never a way to protect them enough (meaning as much as I want, which is 100 percent) from the challenges and pains of life and on the other end, aging parents lead to an even greater sense of helplessness when it comes to fixing life. I guess the lesson is we don’t fix life. We live it, try to help where we can and feel blessed with what we have. And how blessed we are. Merry Christmas to all of my friends who celebrate, and to those of you who don’t- even as you enjoy Chinese food and go to see I Am Legend at the theater- remember, you’re blessed too!

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