Tag Archives: Christmas

There is a Light and it Never Goes Out

Standard
IMG_4380

American excess as depicted at the Lilly House, Winterlights, Indianapolis Museum of Art

I sigh and huff a lot when I’m in Indiana, which is where Z and I are now for the holiday. I’m not sure if it’s because I am by nature a dissatisfied person and so the huffs come out, or if because every time I come home to Richmond I find a little more to be disappointed in. I love my hometown and I will cut you if you disparage it, but I am allowed to criticize it because it is mine. And in the nine years I’ve been in exile in Seattle, the place has changed, and rarely in good ways.

 

Outrages this year that have been frustrating me:

 

  • Elder-Beerman, the big downtown department store that was built before I went to elementary, shuttered earlier this year, so I cannot go there and look for last minute Christmas gifts while humming “Silver Bells” and riding the first escalator I ever encountered in my life
  • Veaches, the downtown toy store of my youth that had a birthday castle in the basement where you could pick out a present went out of business last year, and buying toys for children is not as much fun at big box stores
  • dire predictions that my favorite bakery—and maker of many of the birthday cakes of my life—may be the next to go because there just aren’t a lot of people downtown these days
  • perpetual roadwork that contributed to the demise of the first two and is contributing to the demise of the third
  • the creation of a new bike lane that—while I’m not philosophically against—makes me feel pessimistic when I see it because I’m not exactly sure where anyone would ride their bikes now that Elder-Beerman and Veaches is gone, and the bulk of people on bikes in Richmond are riding them because they lost their driver’s licenses for one reason or another, so I’m not sure if they’ll actually use or obey the bike lane rules when it opens up
  • my favorite shoe repair guy could not save my beloved Ecco shoes that I dragged with me from Seattle, ignoring all cobblers there. Also, he had a photo of Mike Pence hanging up in his shop—steely eying all who enter the store—in a prominent spot that should have been reserved for his deceased wife or Jesus
  • various former 19th century mansions torn down or turned more derelict since I was here last
  • a few restaurants shuttered
  • a changed store layout at Meijer that makes it impossible for me to find Chicken in a Biscuit crackers and mascara
  • the stereo in my old bedroom that I bought in 1989 has a CD player on it that no longer works. And by “no longer works” I mean “totally works unless you want the CD door to eject so you can change CDs.” If, however, you really want to listen to the Ally MacBeal Christmas soundtrack that has now been in there for three Christmasses, you’re in business. (Robert Downey Jr.’s version of Joni Mitchell’s “River” is a favorite of mine, but at this point, I kind of wish the river would thaw and the singer would be swept away in its current.)

 

I’m also sighing a lot because I’m older and I don’t understand things anymore. Our niece asked for a L.O.L. Surprise, which I’d never heard of. It turns out it’s this ball or capsule the size of your hands (or suitcase sized if you are an extra generous uncle and aunty, which we are not at this juncture) and YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IS IN IT UNTIL YOU UNWRAP ITS LAYERS. You know vaguely that you’re going to get a hideous, small, big-eyed doll, who has a water bottle and an outfit change, and you’ll get some stickers and “surprises” (I suspect none of them good), but you have no idea what doll or what outfit because you have no clue what is inside the thing until you unwrap it. Like a present. Which this is. But even I don’t know what I’m giving this kid.

Screen Shot 2018-12-21 at 1.02.41 PM

No peeking, Bridget!

How is this a thing? I mean, given that Cracker Jacks always tasted a bit like sugary cardboard with nuts, I know that the only reason I ever wanted a box of them was because there was some crap toy inside and I didn’t know what it would be. The mystery was intoxicating. But after my 3rd box and subpar “prize”, I realized I’d rather have a Milky Way that tasted nice or new coloring book. I can’t fathom asking Santa for a new Barbie in 1972 and not knowing if I was going to get Malibu Barbie, Quick Curl Barbie, or a brunette Barbie. (Maybe I always was a control freak.)

 

The other thing on B’s list was a JoJo Bow, another thing I didn’t understand and had to have the 14-year-old clerk at Claire’s Boutique explain to me.

 

Have you seen these things? JoJo is a Nickelodeon star with questionable taste in hair accessories, and a giant-assed bow plopped on her head. They are very popular with the cheerleading and dance set, though until two days ago, I did not know this and assumed the girls who had them on their heads didn’t know anything about aesthetics yet. The assistant showed us the two they had on offer—they’d sold out all the others—and explained that they are popular with toddlers through twelve-year-olds, which is an expansive demographic. Why can’t I ever think of these things and cash in?

Screen Shot 2018-12-21 at 1.04.26 PM

Look away from the screen, Bridget!

Did I mention a JoJo bow retails for about $14?

 

The assistant also showed us a third choice: the JoJo Bow Surprise Pack. You have no idea if the bow inside is brown or rainbow colored with sequins, but the joy of it is the surprise.

 

Apparently being surprised is really important to this latest generation of children.

 

Fortunately, B’s little brother wanted presents that made more sense to my ancient mind: dinosaur stuff and snake stuff. No problem.

 

So it came to pass that on the drive home through a downtown that no longer looks like my hometown after this shopping excursion for SURPRISE items, Z and I were singing along to Amy Grant’s rendition of “Sleigh Ride” and in the midst of it I let out a spontaneous huff. Z looked at me, alarmed, and said, “What’s wrong?!” and I said, without missing a beat (and slightly indignant), “Nothing. I’m huff singing!”

 

Like that’s a thing.

 

It is true that we were at a part of the song where Amy makes a reindeer sound or something and maybe I was prematurely singing that, but in all likelihood, it was a legitimate huff I didn’t even know I was making because my brain is constantly trying to recalibrate things that have changed here or that I don’t quite understand now that I could be a member of AARP. (How did a 6-year-old earn 11 million dollars on his YouTube channel by unboxing toys? Who watches that? What’s happening to people?! Does this not also make you want to huff?)

 

Z laughed. Hard. And questioned me about what “huff singing” was, and then tried to imitate it, and I said, “No, No! You’re doing it wrong! You’re sigh singing. That’s a whole different thing!”

 

Huff singing became very real to me and I wanted him to know how to do it properly.

IMG_7928 2

Huff singing optional at Winterlights, Lilly House, IMA

Other things I’m confused about….

 

Leibovitz came over last night because she hadn’t been at my mom and stepfather’s or seen their tree for years (Mom’s tree is pretty spectacular and well-known). It was a delightful evening, and it felt very strange to realize that one of the last memories we could conjure up of her at the house was when she had her first baby in tow. We remembered specifically what the baby had on, what Leibovitz herself was wearing, and where they were sitting as Baby Leibovitz googled Mom’s tree with her big blue eyes.

 

Baby Leibovitz is a senior in college now.

 

Time passes and you don’t even realize it.

IMG_6947

Christmas, snowy yesteryear. (Do you see why I always want to come home for Christmas though? How cozy is that?)

But what was troubling me last night was not the passage of time. What was troubling me was that even though I was in the comfort of my parents’ house with the people I love most, I couldn’t remember what to do with my arms.

 

Things are easy between me and Leibovtiz. We’ve been friends since we were twelve, so it’s not like I needed to put on airs, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out where my hands usually are when I’m talking to someone. I looked across the living room at her and she was comfortable, talking naturally, kind of relaxed on the sofa, and I was sitting there (granted, it was in a chair I never sit in) like I was in a doctor’s waiting room. I kept rearranging the pillows behind me thinking that would help. Sitting back. Sitting forward. But still, there were my hands at the end of my arms and they just didn’t seem to belong to me.

 

What do I normally do with my arms and hands on any given Thursday? I still have no clue.

 

As usual, this blog post is reading like some curmudgeon wrote it. You wouldn’t know how happy I am to be home, how much fun I had earlier this week at the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s “Winterlights” celebration with Z and my folks. How glad I’ve been to see friends, have tea with my high school journalism teacher and reminisce about my years editing the school newspaper and yearbook (and my dogged determination to have a shiny gold yearbook), an Indianapolis adventure with my mom, aunt, and good friend, and a weekend adventure with friends from college which found us hooting with laughter and still behaving very much like nineteen-year-olds, and, later, reuniting with Z after an 11-day geographical separation and just in time for our 9th anniversary.

IMG_7894 2

Lilly House, Winterlights, IMA

There has also been the grief I felt driving past the house of one of my favorite people ever—my high school art teacher who became my friend—and who died earlier this year and whose passing is the reason I haven’t written in two months: my words disappeared when she left. Seeing her house and knowing she was no longer inside and that there’d be no quirky Christmas card this year, no lunchtime conversation that I’d leave from with a list of books and movies and ideas to investigate, was a jolt. And then an ache. And then something akin to joy that radiated outward as I realized how lucky I was to know her, how lucky I’ve always been to have the exact right people in my life, and how when they leave—even though I miss them—they are somehow, miraculously, still there, buried deep in my head and my heart.

 

Christmas is my favorite season, but it is also the season most inclined to make me melancholy. It’s custom built as a holiday to be a time of looking back, at some earlier Christmas that was better. Better because I was younger (and knew what to do with my arms). Better because everything felt magical and untouched by cynicism. Better because there was snow. Always snow. But mostly, better because more people I loved still populated the planet.

 

But today, on this winter solstice, I woke up thinking about the pagan traditions that Christians would have us shake off even though they were the genesis for the season. Bringing in the green to give it shelter from the long winter as a show that we are invested in its rebirth, celebrating this longest night of the year because there will be more light every day moving forward, taking stock of the good fortunes of another year lived. I’m not sure how or why anyone would want to convince us that doing any of this is wrong.

 

And so I’m going to hang up my holiday melancholy for the rest of the year as best I can. Enjoy Mom’s tree and being with my people here even if I’m missing our family celebrating the shortest day of the year there on the other side of the equator, even if at times my heart longs for the places of my youth and people no longer on this mortal coil. It’s all just being human, isn’t it? And so I will huff sing with vigor and be grateful for what I’ve been given.

 

IMG_4177

A fall display back in Seattle, but the sentiment is the same: light and love to you this solstice!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Santa’s Helper

Standard
IMG_6877

Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis

It’s late and I really want to post a Christmas blog for you (kind of like Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas Day TV broadcast), so be forewarned: this entry is going to be less elaborate and twisty than usual because I’ve given myself a deadline of blog post by sunrise on Christmas Eve.

 

Have you ever had one of those December evenings when you find yourself chasing a stranger girl wearing a Santa hat through the aisles of Meijer insisting that she let you help her?

 

No?

 

Midwinter has been weird this year for me, so it wasn’t that surprising. The night before I was sitting at a Quaker meeting house, learning about meditation from a Buddhist wearing a gorgeous blue meditation blanket while I tried not to fall asleep and tip over onto my former shrink who had invited me to attend. A few days before that I was hugging a guy who was homeless in downtown Indy (I’m not really a stranger hugger, fyi, so this is abnormal behavior for me). Before that, and this is probably what should have alerted me to the fact that it was not a normal December, at the airport, I said goodbye to Z—who would be leaving for Zimbabwe for a month the next day—and I DID NOT CRY as I headed off to Indiana solo. I miss him like crazy, but for the first time in 16 years, I said goodbye to him at an airport without feeling the need for a sob. You know, like a grown-up.

 

Also, I usually start rocking out to the Christmas tunes the minute the Thanksgiving dishes have been cleared, but since I got to Indiana, the only CD I’ve listened to in my car is Jethro Tull’s 1977 album Songs from the Wood. It’s been on a continuous loop. I haven’t listened to it this much since my senior year of college when I had a crush on a Tull fan at the exact same moment that I found six Tull albums at Goodwill and believed at the time that this meant he and I were destined to be together. This time of year, I am usually found in my car, zipping past the Christmas lights of Indiana and belting out songs from Dean Martin’s Christmas album, but instead, I have been singing “Jack in the Green” over and over at the top of my lungs and feeling urges to go to a Renaissance Festival and give Z a pair of leather breeches and deer-hide boots for Christmas.

Screen Shot 2017-12-24 at 3.49.15 AM

(This photo rudely stolen from Wikipedia.)

I missed Z more than usual at Meijer today when the young girl in the Santa hat appeared beside me with a wide, vacant stare, and said, “I can’t find my mom.” Z is stupendous in a crisis. I believe this is because in my youth while I was reading confessional poetry written by women who would later commit suicide, Z was learning to lifeguard and how to perform CPR and generally be an upstanding citizen instead of someone who feels her feelings every second of the day. He’s not exactly MacGyver, but I have no doubt that in a crisis he could figure out how to land a plane, defuse a bomb, or set a compound fracture. He’s that guy.

 

Who I am, though, is the person who looked at this poor kid—Santa hat bobbing as she twirled her head from side to side looking for her mom—and sighed deeply before saying, “Let’s see if we can find her.” I don’t know what the proper response should have been exactly, but the fact that that sigh was so deep is pretty damning.

20171126_163426

Who doesn’t love a Me Christmas?

After the sigh, I briefly felt pretty pleased with myself that this kid had recognized in me a helper, someone who looked trustworthy and good at locating missing parents. But it pretty quickly became apparent that I was just the first warm body she bumped into.

 

Everything about Santa Girl was vacant, God Bless her. She couldn’t answer my questions about where she’d seen her mom last, how much time had passed, or what her mom had been shopping for at the time they were separated. Had Z been with me, he would have had the store on lock down, hunkered down next to the girl so he was looking directly into her lusterless eyes, and come up with a plan to reunite her with her parent. Instead, she was stuck with me. My plan, when I realized she wasn’t going to be helpful in tracking down her mom, was to find a store clerk who could take care of this problem for both of us. We walked through a few aisles, her hat bobbing from side to side, and then I spied an older guy wearing the requisite Meijer gear.

 

He looked benign, but I didn’t feel right about dumping a little girl off with a strange man in case it scared her or he was a serial killer, so my plan of a quick escape was nixed.

 

He was a guy who had clearly been through this drill with someone else’s kid before, because he knew what to do. He asked Santa Girl her mom’s name, and thankfully, she knew that. Then he paged the woman. The minute he said Santa Girl’s mother’s name over the loudspeaker, the child looked horror stricken for a second and then she took off running away from us, away from what was likely to be a crabby reunion with her mother, and away from the spot where he’d directed her mother to meet us.

 

I’m not much of a runner unless a bear is chasing me. Fortunately, Santa Girl wasn’t a runner either in her fleece boots, so I was able to keep her in my line of sight as she darted in and out of aisles, looking frantically for her mother. Part of me wanted to shrug and say, “Oh well. She’ll sort herself out,” but the louder part knew that it was important she not dart out the door and into traffic and that she not be terrified, running haphazardly through the frozen foods section. The store clerk who had made the announcement was right behind me, and then somehow in front of me, and though Santa Girl would not listen to my pleas to return to me, when the clerk spoke to her with a kind but authoritative voice, she stopped dead in her tracks. When he called her to him, she came. When he put his arm around her shoulders lightly to direct her back towards the rendez-vous point, she transformed from one of the wild horses of Chincoteague into a tamed creature on a lead. It was amazing.

Screen Shot 2017-12-12 at 12.33.50 AM

I don’t have any horse photos at the ready, so here, look at our wedding cake topper from 8 years ago.

In the time it would have taken me to weigh the pros and cons of putting my hands on a stranger child, this guy instinctively did exactly what she needed to calm down. The way Z would have.

 

It would be so nice to have useful skills like these.

 

We rounded the corner and her mother spied us. There were other kids in and around the car. It was probably two, but it has multiplied in my memory to at least five. I feared Santa Girl would get hollered at, or maybe even smacked, but instead her mother said dryly, “Well, well, well. Who do we have here? It’s Katelyn.”

 

Not Santa Girl. Katelyn. Katelyn who possibly needs one of those child leashes when going out in public.

 

Godspeed, Katelyn.

IMG_6945

Blue Christmas.

What I haven’t told you about this interlude is that I had on sort of loose fitting jeans. And apparently I had on malfunctioning underwear, because somewhere between Katelyn darting off at the sound of the loudspeaker and us doing the perp walk with her back to her mother, my underpants had somehow rolled themselves down to my knees, forcing me into a sort of waddle.

 

After my brief charge was returned to her mother, I considered the possibility that I should trudge the half a mile to the women’s toilets to readjust whatever had sprung itself loose in my Levis, but it seemed so much easier to waddle to the checkout, waddle to my car, and drive myself home to take care of all the unfortunate bunching.

 

Had Katelyn’s mother been friendlier, I might have offered advice about how mis-sized underpants could be used to keep her young fugitive in check.

 

This is not the blog post I planned as a holiday token of my affection for you. I had big plans for a richly woven tapestry of Christmas angst, long-time friendships, my 8th anniversary spent alone, Z in the “new” Zimbabwe, and homelessness. In the end, I realized that present would have been more about pleasing myself and less about entertaining you.  And frankly, it would have been kind of depressing.

 

So instead, you get underpants.

 

IMG_0201

Mom’s tree, which is 10,000 more spectacular up close but my camera won’t cooperate.

 

Whatever you are celebrating this solstice season, I hope you are celebrating well with people you love, festive headgear, the music of your choice, and foundation garments that don’t roll down.

 

 

 

A Tale of Two (or more) Christmases

Standard

IMG_2224

It’s that time of year when I drag out all the Christmas videos that put me in a happy, Christmas space, and force Z to watch them. I don’t always watch all of them—Little Women often gets a miss because I end up in tears when Beth dies—but, like clockwork, there will be a viewing of Christmas in Connecticut, A Child’s Christmas in Wales, A Holiday Affair, While You Were Sleeping, A Christmas Story, and eventually, my favorite, Moonstruck, which, honestly, I sometimes forget is set at Christmas because it’s also one of my favorite non-holiday movies. The script is great, the writing is tight, the scenery is wonderful, and the acting really was worthy of those Oscars back in 1988. The main thing all of these movies have in common though is the promise of a two-hour block of time when Christmas is exactly how you imagine it should be.

 

As you may be aware, I do my fair share of complaining about city life, but this is the time of year that while I miss home—the city…any city really—comes alive for me.

I first discovered this love for city-life-at-the-holidays in Chicago in the mid 1990s when I’d stand for an hour studying the window displays at Marshall Field’s and Carson Pirie Scott. The displays at Field’s were themed and you’d wait anxiously to see what would be revealed each year: Cinderella, Pinocchio, Wizard of Oz? I could easily get teary-eyed talking about Macy’s take-over of the main Marshall Field’s on State Street and subsequent refusal to retain the historical name and traditions and the bland, seen-it-before holiday decorations that are the new normal, or the Target logo that now hovers over the beautiful ironwork on the Carson Pirie Scott building. So don’t mention those stores to me please. Seriously. Can we just pretend it’s still 1997 and all is as it should be on State Street?

 

When I was in Chicago, I somehow didn’t mind the cold. I’d stand outside, purposeless, watching the ice skaters, guessing what might be in the bags and stacks of boxes people were carrying around on the Magnificent Mile as horns honked in what seemed like a less aggressive, more festive way than at other times of the year. I’d make time to go to one of the free weekly concerts at Fourth Presbyterian, staring up at the decorated sanctuary that was meant to look like the hull of a Viking ship, and listen with pleasure to carols and concertos. Then I’d get cocoa on the second floor of the now defunct Borders bookstore and stare down at the historic Water Tower and watch the carriages there, carting tourists around with horses sporting Santa hats. I was meant to be in the city for a man, but he was often at work or disinclined to venture out of his Bat Cave, so my time there was solitary and oddly delightful. I didn’t need to be doing the carriage riding or the ice skating; I was content to observe it, to walk amongst the revelers, to soak it in. There was nothing about Christmas in that snowy, blustery city that I didn’t love; even the labored breathing from the icy temperatures and difficulty walking on the snow-packed side streets seemed magical.

 

Rockefeller Center, 2010

Rockefeller Center, 2010

 

Chicago set the bar high. Four years ago, Z and I had a blizzard-induced flight delay when we were headed to Zimbabwe, and thus we ended up spending a few nights in New York City. For the first time ever, I finally got to see—in the flesh and electric lights—those famous windows at Macy’s, the tree at Rockefeller Center, wreaths on St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It made our interrupted—and thus shortened—trip to Africa almost worth it. Christmas in New York certainly rivals that of Chicago, but for me, it doesn’t quite win. Maybe a tie. I’ve seen Dublin, Galway, Rome, New Orleans, Harare, Seattle and the closer, Midwestern cities of my youth decorated for the holidays, but Chicago will always be the city that lives inside the flurry-filled snow globe in my brain. I try not to hold that against Seattle, which even managed to produce a few tiny patches of snow this year and get cold enough to keep little driftlets at the bases of about three trees.

 

But it’s no Chicago.

 

December hasn’t impressed me much this year. It’s my favorite month usually, but it seems like the whole world is coming unhinged. Normally, it’s the time of year when you can safely insulate yourself from the ugliness out there so long as you toss some money in the Salvation Army pot outside the door at the grocery and feel grateful for your own bounty. But it’s harder this year. People are mad and unhappy and in pain. There have been nightly protests in downtown Seattle to remind us of this. On the one hand, I want to be annoyed that the protestors made a bunch of kids at a choral concert at the tree-lighting ceremony cry at the beginning of the month, but on the other hand, I am sympathetic to the frustration of a faulty system. I am in awe of people who are inclined to let their voices be heard en masse. When I get outraged about something, I send an email and write in my journal or whine to Z, so this level of commitment and the possibility of being on the receiving end of violence—or at least pepper spray and handcuffs—is something to behold. Certainly, it’s making for a different sort of holiday season.

 

At the beginning of the month, Z and I made our first trip to Benaroya Hall, home of the Seattle Symphony, to hear the Pacific Lutheran University choir and orchestra perform a Christmas concert. We were excited to finally get into the building that for the last eight years has only served as backdrop while we wait for the #12 bus to pick up our tired backsides and cart us up the hill. I admit that I even had some Moonstruck fantasies that I was Cher and Rick was the (pre-crazy) Nicolas Cage, decked out in our finery, going to see La Bohème at the New York Metropolitan Opera, never mind Z’s lack of tux and my clomping around in Danskos and slacks instead of high heels and red velvet dress. We had box seats which we’d been assured were “awesome” by Hudge, and we were imagining something similar to the seats Princess Di used to sit in, looking down on everyone with a clear view of the stage. The view was good, though not Royal-Family private, but my seat was not befitting a princess or any other human. Possibly a potted plant would have found reasonable purchase there. For the duration of the concert my knees were pressed against the banister, my feet had to be tucked far beneath my chair, and during the portions where the audience had to stand up to sing carols, Z had to help me over to one side so I could stand without toppling over, which made me feel even less like Cher (or Princess Diana) and more like someone’s clumsy, ancient, slightly drunk aunt.

No Leg Room for a Princess

No Leg Room for a Princess

Still, the music drifted up to the rafters and the choir members sang their way out of the auditorium while holding electric candles, and we were both feeling extra Christmassy as we walked home. The flashing lights of cop cars monitoring another night’s protest were at the periphery, blending in with the other twinkling lights of the city. Everything appeared peaceable even if discontent.

 

The following night we went downtown with Hudge and friends of hers to experience the Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition, a yearly event in Seattle, wherein a variety of groups sing for donations that support a food bank and a senior center, and at the end of the evening the loot in the pots is counted and the “winner” determined. Though it is just a few blocks from our apartment, the streets were packed with, according to some accounts, 10,000 or more people. It was fun, in that it was nice to see so many denizens of Seattle happily bumping against each other in Santa hats, happily dropping money into buckets for a worthy cause. But it was overwhelming to my highly sensitive self. All those people! All those sounds clashing somewhere just above my ears so nothing sounded particularly melodious but more like an aural war being waged, or at least a border skirmish. The police were in full force for crowd control and also because there were rumored to be more protests (later, we learned the protestors and organizers worked out a deal since the event was for a charitable cause, so the protest happened later), but it was jarring to see so many cops at such a happy occasion. And then other little wars started happening inside of me, wherein I wanted to tell them to be safe and that I respected how hard their jobs must be while at the same time I wanted to give little smacks to the ones I thought looked most likely to be trigger-happy racial profilers. (Granted, I had no real data to determine who were the good cops and who were the potentially bad cops, but still, my brain raged to various choruses of “Angels We Have Heard on High” and I came to no solution other than to smile at anyone who made eye contact with me.)

 

Figgy Pudding crowd, 2014

Figgy Pudding crowd, 2014

The following day, Z and I had rented a car and found ourselves with some leftover Christmas spirit that we were uncertain how to expend. We tried eating pie, but that wasn’t enough to sate us, so at the last minute, we drove onto a ferry destined for the Kitsap Peninsula for an ill-planned visit to Poulsbo’s tree-lighting ceremony. It was so ill-planned we weren’t sure we would even make it as it was meant to happen as soon as the sun went down, and the sun was sinking rapidly as we dozed in our car, bobbing across across Puget Sound. (Ferry sleep is the best sleep you will ever have, fyi).

 

You may remember my earlier description of Poulsbo, the little Viking-inspired village that was founded by Scandinavians who arrived in the late 19th century for the fishing. It sits right on the Sound and has a quaint downtown with Viking murals and Scandinavian building facades and signs that are in Norse (or an English version of Norse). Z and I arrived just in time, and as we were racing down the hill to the city park by the waterfront, we saw a group of people in a wooded lot, standing around a fire in Viking headdress and furs, making plans for the ceremony. Though we knew during the day they were probably computer programmers or carpenters, it was easy enough to pretend we’d happened upon an encampment of soon-to-be marauding Vikings.

 

We left them where they were and continued down the hill and got to the city park, just in time to see Miss Poulsbo light the village tree. We were imagining some massive fir tree, because the trees grow big and plentiful in western Washington, but no, the tree in question was only about a foot taller than Miss Poulsbo herself, who Z briefly mistook for a snowman because she was wrapped so tightly in a white cape. We’d been imagining something much grander and briefly considered we’d made an error in choosing our evening’s destination. But there was a huge stack of wood in front of us that was intriguing and talk of Vikings escorting Saint Lucia in to light it, so we stood around with the townsfolk waiting. Compared to the night before in downtown Seattle, this group was much smaller, maybe 200 or so people, and many seemed to know each other. Some little boys dressed in skins raced around the wood and a young bulldog made friends with everyone who walked past. We’d recently binged on all seven seasons of “Gilmore Girls” on Netflix, and frankly, Poulsbo felt very Stars Hollow-esque. (Even the emcee was reminding us a little of the insufferable Taylor Doose.)

 

Z and I stood by the waterfront looking at the lighted houses across the Sound. And then, off in the distance, we saw flames coming towards us as the Vikings approached on the river walk, brandishing torches. (A kid behind us thought they were bringing us all giant, roasted marshmallows to help celebrate.)

Saint Lucia? Is that you?

Saint Lucia? Is that you?

 

The anticipation grew as they got closer and people made way for them to get to the wood that would become a proper big bonfire. As they arrived, in their midst were a variety of girls and young women, and we’d be hard pressed to tell you which one was St. Lucia, but my money is on the one with candles on her head because she looked the most regal. (The crowd surged towards the wood and we couldn’t see if Candle Head did the actual bonfire lighting, so I’m still none the wiser.)

 

Vikings lighting the jule fire, Poulsbo, WA

Vikings lighting the jule fire, Poulsbo, WA

Before the torches came down in unison to light the bonfire, one of the Vikings spoke about the meaning of the celebration, the importance of light reaching out in the darkness at a time of the year when the darkness is so vast. Even though it was a fun, silly sort of activity akin to going to a Renaissance Festival, I felt tears threaten because it seemed like the most apt of metaphors this dark, dark year when the world seems to be extra violent and angry and brokenhearted. Maybe this is why it is my favorite time of year despite the crowds and the way my eye starts twitching because I let myself get stressed about buying subpar presents or the guilt I feel that while I’m having a perfectly lovely Christmas, a score of people are depressed or hungry or victimized or not able to be with their families. Z, for instance, will be with me this year instead of in Zimbabwe with his family, and while I’m thrilled that we are together and thrilled that I’m destined for an Indiana Christmas, there is still a certain sadness that we are not with his people too.

 

But as the bonfire got higher and higher, illuminating the darkness around us (and some of the ash threatening to set those of us in nylon jackets ablaze), I was able to push those trickier aspects of the holiday season out of my mind and focus instead on the light, on the freshness of the impending new year and the possibility of the world getting brighter and kinder.

 

It was the best kind of holiday night. Maybe even better than a mid-December on Chicago’s wintry streets.

 

Viking winter bonfire, Poulsbo, WA

Viking winter bonfire, Poulsbo, WA

 

 

Christmas with a Carpetbagger

Standard

Today, I was happily Christmas shopping in the fancy little café/chocolaterie with Mom, feeling full of holiday cheer, glad to be in one of the old warehouses of my hometown that has been repurposed instead of torn down. Though rain is coming tomorrow, which will melt the snow that has made a gorgeous backdrop to my holiday, it was that kind of snow-covered, holly-laden day you look back on as nearly perfect. Mom was trying to select a box of cleverly shaped chocolates for a dinner party she’s going to tomorrow night, and I was admiring the case of cheesecakes that have gravity-defying architectural elements.

It was a day of errands, so I was slopping around in my favorite fleece boots and oversized sweater. I’d failed to brush my hair because brushing hair sometimes bores me, and I was no doubt looking like a big, gray-coated slob. But I don’t care. When I’m home, I’m home. I’m not here to impress anyone.

This is the type of un-brushed, minimal make-up moment when I inevitably see some old boyfriend from a million years ago. Though I have no interest in such men what with Z being so fabulous and all, it is preferable to have such a creature look at you with interest or as if he is harkening back to yesteryear, wondering where he went wrong instead of displaying signs of relief that he escaped a fate worse than death by not hitching himself to ratty-haired, skwonkily buttoned you.

But on this very Christmassy day, I did not see an old sweetheart. Instead, I saw someone infinitely less tolerable: my nemesis, Voldemortress.

There are many things I could say about Voldemortress, but what you need to know about her is that she is a carpetbagger, who has no one’s best interests at heart except her own. She made my life difficult once upon a time for no good reason other than she was doing a little world building and I was in the spot where she wanted to construct a grist mill. Plus, she is the antithesis of me, and while I generally have a live-and-let-live policy with most human people, because she was a thorn in my side, I find myself loathing those differences between us, which begin with the sartorial (she’s a clothes horse, and I am, well, see photo to the right or a few paragraphs above) and ends with the way she says “important” (just like John Edwards back when he was on the campaign trail, lying to all of us about his personal life). Impordant, like that first “t” is a “d” and she hasn’t noticed.

So there I stood, salivating over cheesecake, which I do not need because my jeans are large but also tight, and I looked over and there she was, having some sort of impordant business meeting. She didn’t even look like herself. Her hair was puffier (but combed, unlike mine), and she’s done something really dark and unfortunate with her eyebrows. Was it her? I wasn’t sure, and then Mom sidled up to me and said under her breath, “Is that Voldemortress?” Confirmation.

Chocolate purchases no longer mattered. We skedaddled out of there, exactly the way I always think Harry Potter should skedaddle whenever he is in the presence of He Who Shall Not Be Named. In the face of some evils, my motto is that it really is better to run. Though admittedly, today  I wasn’t really hell bent on leaving because those tiny cheesecakes looked so good. Mom, however, was spluttering and full of rage on my behalf. I feared my mild-mannered and very gentle mother might bean Voldemortress with a box of chocolates if we stuck around. As we walked out to the car, Mom was still hissing.

What surprised me though was how light I felt. For a while now, I’ve had a variety of interior monologues with this woman that range from giving her a piece of my mind in the Meijer parking lot to stopping to help her change a flat like a good Midwestern Samaritan, and then hopping into my car with her tire iron clutched in my hand and the tire unchanged. (As I drive off in this fantasy, I am laughing maniacally.) But today, I felt nothing much really. In fact, it struck me that the three times I glanced her way trying to figure out if that was her underneath those unnaturally dark eyebrows (and what exactly had she done to them anyhow?), she was holding her hand in front of her face, as if it were large enough for her petite self to hide behind. Instead of sitting there grandly, assuming that I would cower in her presence, my presence clearly made her uncomfortable. It wasn’t nearly as satisfying as driving off with her tire iron, but the rest of the day I felt some impish pleasure, knowing that for those few minutes when we were under the same roof, she was having a hard time concentrating on whatever machinations she was putting into play with the men in suits. Possibly she feared I’d cause a scene and ruin whatever scheme she was embroiled in. She doesn’t know me well and may mistakenly believe I’m a scene maker. However, I prefer to believe that she is fully aware of what a rotten person she was to me and she was filled with something akin to shame, and thus had to hide her face.

Mostly, I can’t tell you how relieved I am that I did not give in to the Midwestern inclination (and curse) to be polite to someone who has been adversarial.

Happy Christmas to me.

A Matter of Perspective

Standard

RGSChristmaslightsinZim

Here in the land of excess, I am able to drive past sub-par holiday decor and curl my lip. Downtown on Tuesday there was an ice sculpture–lovely, lovely ice sculpture–and instead of being amazed that something so intricate could be cut from a block of ice, I sighed and thought, Oh, the Grinch. I was hoping for something more beautiful.

Meanwhile, in Z’s little hometown, people were camping out to see the lighting of the town Christmas decorations. It was cause for celebration. It’s a single string of colored bulbs stretched across a parking lot.  It is cheery and fun and also has pretty much cornered the market on simplicity. While I can’t personally imagine waiting outside for any amount of time to see them lit (with no guarantee that there would be power to light them), I appreciate that single strand of holiday cheer.

So my goal for the remainder of this holiday season is to think like a Zimbabwean. I will turn my nose up at giant, inflated snowmen, and electrified reindeer whose antlers move in time to Jingle Bell Rock. Instead, I will do my best to delight in a sprig of holly, a cardinal on the snow, a single strand of giant, 1950s style Christmas lights lining an eaves trough, which come to think of it, is all the Christmas I needed when I was a kid. My grandparents would hang those lights on the awning of their patio and just seeing them there, ushering in Christmas, gave my cousins and me the wriggles. I remember thinking, “These lights are so beautiful, why don’t they leave them up all year?”

Blue(ish) Christmas

Standard

RGSScreen Shot 2013-12-09 at 3.07.12 AM

Z just called from the airport, ready to board his flight for the other side of the planet.  As soon as we hung up, I burst into tears. I hate these Dark Side of the Moon hours, when we can’t communicate because one of us is in transit. Astronauts’ spouses have my sympathy, especially those wives and husbands of astronauts who did boldly go before it was possible to tweet from space.

 

No matter how many times I check Flight Aware and know he’s on that plane watching some Owen Wilson movie, it is not the same as getting an email from him or hearing his voice.

 

Prepare for some whining in the next twenty-three days. I apologize in advance, but because Z-ma has been suffering with vertigo, Z and I decided that though we were loathe to spend the holidays apart—not just Christmas, mind you, but our fourth anniversary as well—we’d feel better if he headed to Zimbabwe to help her out while he’s on break from classes. Because I have an allergic reaction to the thought of being in Seattle without him, I boarded the next available flight to Indiana two days ago, and here I will remain until New Year’s Eve. If Providence, weather patterns, and flight times agree with us, Z and I will be reunited just in time to see 2014 in together.

 

This is the time of year when I am torn between being delighted to be in Seattle, gearing up for the Christmas traditions of the city—the Christmas ships, the tree on top of the Space Needle, the tree lighting and carousel at Westlake Center, the scheduled “snowfall” at Pacific Place Center, the illuminated fruit atop Pike Market—and feeling a little bit envious (and maybe a little angry?) at the people who live in our city amongst family and life-long friends. Of course I don’t actually know any of these people—these native Seattle-ites with a rich web of their own tribe—but when I go past certain houses in neighborhoods with driveways and where wreaths are on the doors, I imagine entire multi-generational scenarios for them that would probably even make the Waltons envious. Or nauseous.

 

So, though I will be missing Z, I will not have to be hating on complete strangers in Washington just because their imagined holiday lives are more glorious than my own. Instead, I can partially live the dream in my beloved Midwest, where I have already been greeted with snow. No one here will think less of me if I wear a holiday-themed sweatshirt or my Santa troll earrings, which is an added bonus.

 

Because I’m not in Zimbabwe to see that it isn’t true, I can even imagine Skampy (and possibly a zebra or two) wearing a Santa hat at a jaunty angle to usher in the season.

 

But still, I promise you, there occasionally will be whining, gnashing of teeth, renting of cloth. I am heartily sorry.