Friday, December 25, 2015

Rebooting Christmas

Well, how can I follow last weeks post?

I never imagined that it would have had such an impact on other people. So many people connected with what I said and sent messages to share their experiences with me, that I was overwhelmed with gratitude and humbled by the strength I saw in people battling through a variety of issues in their own lives.

For me, it was cathartic, as if I'd lanced a festering boil and suddenly the world came back into focus. I'd worried too long about the empty chairs around the table, chairs I'd nearly filled, chairs I never come close to filling, and chairs that had been vacated far too soon.

"That I live and you are gone
There's a grief that can't be spoken
There's a pain goes on and on
Phantom faces at the window
Phantom shadows on the floor
Empty chairs at empty tables..."

But I ignored the new faces at the table - I won't do that any more.

I stripped everything about Christmas away this year. I quit comparing myself to others. I stopped comparing this year with previous years from the long distant past. Instead of focusing on the decorations and the glitz of Christmas, I am concentrating on the people in my life and trying to open my heart, to let go of anger and envy, and enjoy the world and the people God has given me.

A Good Friend told me that one of the good thing about Christmas is that it gives us a chance to celebrate in the dark days of winter. Perhaps that's what Christmas truly is about - reaching for the light in the darkest of days.

Christmas, like life, is what you make it.

I promised myself, I will make it better.

I started by going to Mass last night, following the advice of the same Good Friend I mentioned earlier. It was nice and yes the carols brought a lump to my throat but the homily was brilliant and I came away with something Pope Francis had talked about recently that I thought was really beautiful and hopeful. The priest called us to join in the Revolution of Tenderness.

Where do I sign up?

Joy and peace to you all this Christmas.


Friday, December 18, 2015

Ba Humbug!

In six years of blogging, I've only written two posts about Christmas. One post from 2010 featured our outdoor crib, or creche as they call it in the US (which initially made me kind of nervous. It sounded like the kind of place where people would drop their kids off.) It had gotten damaged in storms in previous years, but last year was a catastrophe! The Holy Family just couldn't bounce back from that, and so we gave up.

It seems we're not the only ones to give up on the Holy Family. It says a lot about a society where Christians have decided to replace the image of the Holy Family on their Christmas cards with images of themselves. So it did make me happy to receive one card with the Baby Jesus on it. My aunts are pretty great about
A) sending me cards (especially when I've stopped sending them) and
B) sending me nativity scenes - my favorite Christmas image.

In my opinion, only Christians have the power to take Christ out of Christmas, and it happens in subtle ways. Presents become more important that prayers, and Santa has become the main man. For example, one of the main items on the news here last night reported on how a school trip to a coffee shop in San Jose to see Santa was cancelled because a person who was Non-Christian objected to the trip. What the heck is Santa doing hanging out in a coffee shop in San Jose anyways?

I urge you to read the news item yourselves, not least because I may misrepresent it because I'm self-admittedly bitter and twisted about Christmas, but I believe that it comes down to this:

1) How educational was the trip? Was it really a great learning experience? Perhaps - if those children don't often experience coffee-shop culture in San Jose!

2) If the mom who opposed it, did so because all religions were not included, then I disagree with her principle. Santa is NOT a religion! He may be derived from a Christian Saint - St. Nicholas, but more often he's a marketing tool for the retail trade (authors included!) If she's speaking culturally, she may have a point, but then wouldn't it be MORE important for her child to take part and learn about other cultures?

3) Is the parent who is staging a walk-out really a good example to her children in this season of goodwill? Is that what Jesus would have wanted?

4) What happened to "They will know we are Christians by our love"? Now it seems to be "They will know we are Christians by the amount of lights we have on our houses, the size of our Christmas trees, the amount of presents we exchange and how much food and drink we can consume."

For people who are not Christian, I don't blame them for not wanting to be wished a Happy Christmas - though I've never actually experienced a Non-Christian object to the well meaning wish. My Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan and atheist friends seem to be happy to receive my Happy Christmas greeting. It's the other Christians who seem to have issue with it!

For me, it sums up how ridiculous the whole Christmas/Holidays debacle now is - especially here in the USA.

The other Christmas blog I wrote was posted in 2011 - It's title was taken from a Gone With The Wind quote that I love - "The best days are when babies come."

I remember writing that with a heart full of hope that the following Christmas I'd be blogging about Santa coming to my baby.

But Santa didn't come, nor will he ever.

By the end of 2012, I'd learned two things.

I'd never have children and I'd never have the Christmas I'd always dreamed off.

And so I began to hate Christmas...

I hate getting the cards with other people's children on them, reminding me of my repeated failure to have my own. (So forgive me if my comments above have offended you - now hopefully you have a better understanding of where I'm coming from.)

I hate the tree with presents under it for grown-ups, presents we neither wanted nor needed.

I hate buying presents in a society that has an excess of everything, in stark contrast to a world were the majority suffer from not having enough.

I hate unwrapping presents and contributing to waste and landfill.

I hate pretending to be happy at parties.

I hate those "What are you doing for Christmas conversations?" that feel like an admission of more failure as a woman, because I didn't want to spend the whole damn day cooking.

I hate going to Mass because the carols make me cry. (Even though I really love them.)

I hate missing my family back home, but feel they are better off without me dragging them down with my gloom. (Even though my sister is wonderful and really understands me.)

I hate missing my Dad and knowing I'll never laugh with him again.

I hate Santa Claus and his fat jolly ho-fucking-hos!

I hate myself for my whole gratitude fail. My life is great, when I'm not wallowing in self pity.

I hate the look on my Husbands face, because he knows I'm sad, and he feels like he can't make me happy.

But he does make me happy...

In this whole cauldron of hate, he is my flotation device, the person that stops me from giving up and allowing myself to sink into it. He is the person who understands how painful and empty Christmas is for me, and who doesn't judge me for it.

I wrestled with the decision to write this soul-baring post, mostly because discussing infertility is so taboo. To not have children raises so many questions from those who have. I do feel sorry for the mother who inadvertently asks me "How many kids do you have?"

The only reason I don't discuss my infertility more openly is because the world doesn't want to know. I've seen women flinch when I have brought it up (I rarely bring it up with men at all). I've actually  heard women gasp (in a "Did she just say that?" sense) when I've talked openly about it. I think it's because they believe it is inappropriate for me to mention that I wanted children I could never have - how dare I bring the conversation down to such a sad level.

Yet, I've sat through many conversations where the opening sentence has been, "If you had children, you'd know...." and bitten my tongue and swallowed back words that I still don't know if I should be writing...even on my own blog, on a subject of my choosing...

Which was?

Oh, yes, Christmas... Wow! Two taboos at once - dissing Christmas and discussing infertility - I really am the Grinch.

This year I'm not putting up decorations or a tree. Our lemon tree looks beautiful at the moment - the lemons look like baubles. So I'm making do with that.

I love the symbolism - life giving you lemons!

Before I sign off, I'd just like to say this Christmas think about the people who don't have it all -

the people who, for whatever reason, don't have their family around the tree on Christmas Day,

the people who feel as if Christmas opens a hole in their heart so big it swallows you up and spits you out

the people who have no homes

the people who have no love

the people who will cry this year

the people who mourn their loved ones

the people at the bottom of a bottle and their loved ones who watch and grieve for them

the people who may know this is their last Christmas (as I write this I remember being with my Daddy facing that realization on 25 December 2007)

the people who have lost hope

the people suffering war

the people who hate (even if only for a little while, as in my case)
Because when we hate, we lose ourselves, and that might be what hurts me most at Christmas.

So I won't wish you a Merry Christmas... I'll wish you hope and happiness for everyday of the year because life is a struggle for everyone at sometime. We just don't always see the hurts of another person. Most days of the year, I try to acknowledge that I'm happy with my life - but today - with Christmas just around the corner, well ... ya know...

Byddi Lee

Friday, December 11, 2015

Oh So Heavenly

The problem with a mini break is the "mini" part! It's been hard to get back to writing this week.
I was lucky enough to take advantage of the early snow in the Sierras this week and had two days skiing in Heavenly Resort at South Lake Tahoe. We got a great deal at the Marriott Grand residence, where they treat you like royalty! We drove up to the front door and gave them our car keys. They unpacked the car and brought our luggage to our room, sent our skis to the gondola for us to pick up the next morning and parked the car for us. We didn't see it again until we checked out 3 days later!
We stayed in a teeny tiny palace - the studio suit was just so cute. It had a better equiped kitchen than I have at home, to the extent that I decided to cook on vacation. My friends know that I hate to cook while on holidays, but this little kitchen was so adorable...
The room was two doors up from a lift which opened in to its own foyer, right across from the gondola! So easy. The complex was huge, so I did have a tendency to get lost, but if I found my way to the gondola, I knew I was near my room. I begged My Husband to let me live there forever, but he said someone had to do the gardening back in San Jose!

We were extremely lucky with the weather. Squeezing in between two big weather events meant we had snow to ski on but not drive in.

One of the things I love most about Heavenly is skiing with a view of Lake Tahoe on one side and a view of the desert landscape of Nevada on the other. 

Since it was so early in the season a lot of the runs were closed. The board at the bottom of the lift told this story.
But at the top of the Gondola, the board told us the only thing open on the California side was where we already were.
As a result, we got to see more of the Nevada side. It was possible to ski to the California side, but the return was closed, so we'd have been stuck there. Skiing the Nevada side was no hardship!
It's been nearly two years since we'd skied. I worried that I might have gotten rusty. It was the first time I'd ever used Strava while skiing. It entertained me to see how careful we were on day 1, yet by the end of day 2 we were back to blasting down the slopes over and over again getting faster each time. We literally doubled our distance the second day. We were like big kids, grinning from ear to ear and just having such fun - snow and gradient can do that!

One last observation... the lockers at the top of the gondola.
You can have with a "large" locker or a "jumbo" locker. What's wrong with saying a "big" one and a "small" one? Is "small" so negative a term in marketing that it is being abolished - even in Starbucks you can't get a "small" coffee. You have to ask for a "tall" coffee. I only remember that because it rhymes with small!

Yet the difference in size between these lockers was negligible - I mean if this is large...
are these fractionally bigger ones really jumbo? I couldn't tell the difference...
I suppose medium and small just wouldn't be worth the effort. So nice to know that locker sizes go up to the word equivalent of 11. Marketing - the lies we live by!

Byddi Lee

Friday, December 4, 2015

Moments in a Winter Garden

Warning this post starts off all sweetness and light but has a dark conclusion - read to the end to discover why... or if you have a weak stomach stop at the triple asterisk...

Finally the temperatures have dropped and the rain has arrived here.
I took a short video clip of the rain to capture the movement. It looked like sparkles falling from the sky as the sun was trying to shine at the same time. What has happened to me? What have I become? The California drought has changed me from being someone who hated the rain, to the person who now videos it. It just goes to show, you really need to be careful what you wish for.

Now I've successfully uploaded one video,  I may continue to explore this medium in future posts.

It's hard to beat a nice photo though.The leaves have turned a beautiful array of gold through copper.
The amazing Bird-of-Paradise are out in full bloom. I love how the color orange brightens up the winter garden, repeated throughout the garden with more Bird-of-Paradise and oranges in the back ground.
 I've had the first oranges of the season - so good!
The lemons are maturing too.
Non-natives, like this lavender, are often confused and put out new buds alongside blooming flowers and seed-heads.
In the native garden, the California Fushia brings a welcome splash of scarlet.
Newly germinated seedlings promise a blaze of orange poppies come the springtime.
On the non-native side, daisies have self-seeded and germinated where I cleared the dead ones out from last year. Such tiny delicate little dicotyledons - it's a wonder that they even survive.
Even though I'm not actually planting vegetables this winter, the onions have taken matters into their own hands. Can you see the little black seed-coat hanging on before the stem straightens and shrugs it off?
The daffodils are up, signalling the end of winter even before I feel like it has fully begun. Oh, the joys of a California garden.
But California gardens come with some downsides too...


I had a spectacular Stephen King moment. I was clearing out old zucchini leaves. They were grey and brittle skeletons, nothing like the lush green plant that had fed us all summer. The whole plant came away in a scratchy crackle with one snip at the stem. The root would compost in place over winter. Underneath where the leaves had lain, I saw a tailless lizard with vivid blue specks up either side of his body. It's late for these guys to be out, and so cold I wondered if he'd move at all. I wasn't surprised that he lay there motionless looking up at me. Was he dead? I wondered...

I picked him up gently in my gloved hands. His body, just a few inches long, seemed rigid and quite light. Maybe he was dead. Yes, he should be - he had an arm missing. I set him down.

Then I saw him move. A ripple in his neck and another one under his skin. He was breathing. I peered closer. A little "head" popped out of a hole right where his ear should be (if lizards have ears in the same place as humans!) Another blunt white nub popped out of the hole made by his missing forearm. He was full of wriggling maggots, all trying to escape the home they had made in his body now that some giant monster (me!) had disturbed him.

I watched in horrified fascination as one by one, a half dozen of them squirmed their way to freedom and sought refuge under the nearby stones. I decided not to take a picture - there are some things you just shouldn't share visually.

California gardens - it's all fun and games until somebody gets their ear poked out!

Byddi Lee