“High Priest of Spring”

A poem for April, National Poetry month.

My dad was a man of business, but he had a romantic, poetic, creative side to himself which he didn’t really begin to nurture until his last years when he began to sketch, etc.

IMG_2366Every spring, as the wild bleeding hearts begin to bloom, turning the woods here into a fairyland, I think of this poem by him, found after his death. I posted it 6 years ago, but I still love to share it.

IMG_2372

Is it a good poem? I don’t know, but it shows his sensitive attention to and appreciation of the details of life unfolding on this shared land. It expresses his observation of life around him. Is that not what many poets write of?

It’s a delight to see this side of him, and sad we never walked the land together in the spring. He was all about business and “projects” when he was here. But he must have had his private moments with “the High Priest of Spring.”

dad's golden pond032

Dad was a Nature lover, very active in Sierra Club & supporter of Nature Conservancy. I call this his “On Golden Pond” picture.

Happy Birthday Mom

Picking a bouquet of wintered over pansies yesterday, I thought of my mom, whose birthday is today. She was born 4/3/21, a date easy to remember!  Pansies were the first of many shared favorites. With her encouragement, I planted them as my first childhood gardening experience. I’ve written of mom and her love of growing flowers before, it’s a memory that makes me smile. It was a part of her that lasted until almost the end of her life, as other parts of her fell away.

I got out these favorite photos of her. One, which I never saw until I cleaned out my folks house, is her as a young, confident woman in 1942, post engagement, but two years before marrying my dad.

The other is us at Rialto Beach just after her 90th birthday. When I realized Alzheimer’s was going to take away her enjoyment of things she loved, I asked where she’d like to take a trip. She loved to travel, and traveled both internationally and throughout the U.S. with my dad and on her own after his death. Without hesitation she said “the seashore”. We made two trips to the ocean, one to Mt Rainer, and one to Anacortes.

The first trip was so much fun, she had not been to the ocean in years. She sat pointing to rocks on the beach with her cane for Mike to pick up. The three of us watched the most spectacular sunset I’ve ever seen at the coast.

I’ve written several times about my mom lately. After she died I was so worn out from the challenges of her care the last years of her life, and I had to immediately face my own challenges with breast cancer, a mastectomy, and so on. I felt little grief, just a sadness and relief.  Over the years I occasionally sort through remaining photos and memorabilia from her life and, as I mentioned in my last post, it has both brought alive a woman I did not know, pre-motherhood, as well as reminding me of who she was pre-dementia. These are not sad memories. On the contrary, they give me back my mom, the fullness of her life, the multi-faceted person she was.

My heart goes out to anyone witnessing a loved one going through any form of dementia. Keep alive memories of who they were/are regardless of how the disease is changing them. Remember always the person you’ve loved and shared life with as you adjust to this new person they are becoming, the changes that are happening, too often too fast.  I felt I was constantly establishing a relationship with someone new, yet I’d see my mom’s spirit shine through in little glimmers.

Here’s some pansies for you mom.

(header photo: Mom at LaPush, ocean trip #2, waving to us on the beach. She was soooo happy sitting and watching the ocean.)

 

International Women’s Day

A powerful experience for me of shifting perspective has been reading my mother’s letters and diaries as well as going through piles of old photos. Old photos are not just pictures of old people, old photos are, for the most part, pictures of young, vibrant people who were our parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, great grandparents, other relatives, and their friends. Though I might have known them (some I didn’t) and/or heard their stories, when I see the stories the pictures tell, or read my mother’s writings, I meet young people, especially young women, who I did not know because who they were then is not necessarily who they were during my time with them. In other words, before our parents became parents, they had lives! And even after they became parents, how many of us, as young children, were that observant of our parents and other “older” relatives to see who they truly were…complex, amazing people who had more going on than their relationship with us.  My parents told us stories of their lives when they were younger, but to read those stories not from the perspective of a parent recalling and telling a story, but in the present, in the first person, is a very different perspective.

Two of the ‘next generations’ of women in my family, my niece Kira & her daughter Natalia. They are as awesome as their foremothers!

On this International Women’s Day I think of all the amazing women in my life, my heart is especially touched by the young women I know – raising families, farming, teaching, going to school, following their dreams in a world that too often feels hostile and unsupportive. And I am reminded of the generations that came before my own, the young women a century ago, more or less, who were also following dreams, or perhaps NOT following their dreams because there was no support for them to do so in a crazy world where women’s status was much different than today. (yes, I know women’s status in so many places and in so many ways has not changed). They too were living in a world that seemed to be falling apart with economic decline and war, whether WWI or WWII.  There was racism, bigotry, drugs, the whole package, the same though different.

The economic depression and her parents eventual divorce was hard on my mom and her family, there were days food was scarce. She would tell us these stories, but the letters and diaries, written at the time, never mention it, they are the writings of a young woman, they sound like a teenager of any era, (except perhaps for the phrases and expressions used!) and later, like a woman in love and planning her future with her best friend and husband.

mom on the beach with her 3 ‘kids’.

Women in their 20s and 30s today are not likely thinking about their great grandparents stories, for my peers and I are the grandparents, great Aunts, ‘older’ women of their world, and we have our own stories! I hope we will also share the stories of those who came before us not as stories of ‘old people’ but stories of young women who thrived, worked hard, grew strong and laid the trails that became the roads, that still need to be made into super highways for women going forward. My mother worked full time while raising three children, and in spite of the term “latch-key” kid that was used at the time for children of working moms, I never felt neglected or alone because of her work life.  Her mother had worked, especially when left to be a single mom during the depression.  I did not have a concept of women not working and always knew life was about finding meaning work (mom, who told me stories of them, liked her jobs, most of which were office jobs). Looking back I think she was quite the super woman!  But of course I didn’t think in those terms at the time.  Her work paid for the ‘extras’ in our lives – music lessons, dance lessons, scout camps, and for me, her income and my own paid for my college education. (I was not daddy’s little girl!).

Happy International Women’s Day to all women and the men who love, honor, cherish and respect them.

To those who don’t…….be scared, be very scared! There is a league of women backed by the spirits of those who walked before them just ready to change the world as you think it is!

(just had to add that!)

 

The troubled waters we are in

The troubled waters of hate and violence we are collectively in are deep and the long-term answers to our own safety, as well as our evolution as a caring culture, are complex. This is my humble attempt to discuss how mental health services as a solution to violent shootings is a myth.

My introduction to mental illness was as a teenager. A boyfriend had spent time, before coming to the school where I met him, at a school for young people with emotional problems. He eventually left the school where we met, returning the year after I graduated. That year he tried to commit suicide. He was a nice guy. In my teens I didn’t really understand what his emotional problems were, though he talked with me a bit about them. Another boyfriend saw a psychiatrist once a week. Another classmate, an unattractive, geeky chess prodigy with few social skills, committed suicide over an “older” women he met at a chess match. I’m sure she never knew of his infatuation or reason for taking his own life.

While in college in Washington D.C. I had more experiences being around people with mental health challenges, people I met from the D.C. community (no, they weren’t politicians).   Wanting to be a historian, I primarily studied Asian countries. Courses in the history, anthropology, art and philosophy of Asian cultures filled my two years at American University before I transferred to the University of Oregon and graduated with a degree in social sciences. I did not know these early experiences around people with mental health troubles foreshadowed my eventual work as a social worker, including working in mental health services with people diagnosed with schizophrenia and bi-polar disorders.

I was never afraid of my teen-age boyfriend, not then nor years later when he visited me on the west coast. In retrospect, what I did learn about him (some of it from his mother, including his putting cigarettes out on his arm when he was in the school for emotionally challenged children) indicated he likely had schizophrenia. There were few medications available at the time. Though he had an intensity that could be scary, I never thought he’d harm me, he had a kind heart. Other troubled people I knew never seemed dangerous, not only at the time, but also in retrospect after years of working with people struggling with mental illness. When studying for a Master’s degree in psychiatric rehabilitation I read pages of case histories, none were about people dangerous to others. In the years I worked one-on-one with people whose hallucinations, voices, delusions, mood swings and other serious symptoms were very debilitating for them, causing them to be isolated and often behave in bizarre ways, I met with them in their apartments or community settings, where I might have been considered vulnerable compared to those who saw them in clinic settings, yet there was only one person I felt uncomfortable with. I learned people with serious psychiatric disabilities were more likely to harm themselves than others. Statistics back this up. It may happen, but that is not the norm.

If you add personality disorders, and/or drug induced symptoms, you change the picture, and the person.

“there are no reliable cures for insecurity, resentment, entitlement and hatred.”

This quote, from an excellent editorial in the New York Times, “The Mental Health System Can’t Stop Mass Shooters”, could be describing characteristics and attitudes of many people, including some successful politicians who think of their own financial gains over the needs of those they are supposed to be serving; corporate heads who show little concern for the welfare of their employees or the communities where they dump toxic wastes; professionals who take advanced of vulnerable, trusting clients; coaches, teachers, actors or anyone who sexually abuses those they have authority over. The list goes on. These people have personality disorders*, often narcissistic personality disorder, sometimes borderline personality disorder, and they live and work in all areas of our society. Some, not able to be successful within socially acceptable means or the acceptable definition of success, or unable to get the attention they need*, may commit heinous crimes such as rape or murder. They feel entitled to have what they want and someone got in the way of their gratification, someone pissed them off. The difference between the former list and the later example is a matter of opportunity or degrees on the continuum of personality disorders, or both.

People who have narcissistic personality disorder, or borderline personality disorder, are the “mentally ill” who do the most damage to others, and they are the least likely to seek help, or benefit from it if they do. It’s everyone else who has a problem, not them. They are rarely diagnosed.

The issue of mass shootings is not a mental health issue solvable by offering mental health services to individuals (though better mental health service are always needed). It is a societal issue where many people have become desensitized to others, where narcissism is becoming a “norm”, replacing empathy and compassion for, and cooperation with, others. Where those most in the limelight are setting a standard of “I’m right, and anyone who disagrees with me, or doesn’t give me what I want, is wrong and doesn’t deserve ______. ” Fill in the blank – food stamps, a job, health care, social security benefits, the right to live in the country of their choice, or maybe to live at all.

If you do not believe this has become a “norm” take time to read the comments written under many on-line articles or Facebook posts. See how people respond to those they disagree with, or whom they do not share the same values or perspective. (You can also read the articles listed  below addressing this societal problem.)

People with personality disorders are often liken to 2 year olds in their emotional development. They, like 2 year olds, should not have access to guns, nuclear weapons, shouldn’t be politicians, shouldn’t be playing with dangerous chemicals, or the rights of other people.

Mass shootings occur because people who are, or at least pass as, mentally healthy can buy weapons designed for mass killings, weapons designed ONLY for killing people, not for hunting deer, not for target shooting, designed to kill as many people as possible.

As long as this new “norm” of narcissism, of “entitlement”, is sanctioned by the role modeling of public figures there will be killings. Making the weapons unavailable for mass shootings is only a first but crucial step to ensure better safety for others. The other steps are complex and require honest reflection how, as a society, we got to this place of narcissistic entitlement. This place of “me first”, others be damn. Of hate, not love.

*Definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder: grandiosity, lack of empathy for others, need for admiration and attention, described by others as arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, demanding.  A person with NPD may concentrate on grandiose fantasies (e.g. their success, brilliance), be convinced they deserve special treatment, believe they are superior or special, have difficulty tolerating criticism or defeat. They frequently take advantage of others to reach their own goals, can be charming to achieve to those goals, disregard the feelings of others, need constant attention and often go to extreme behavior to get it.

Borderline Personality Disorder has many of the same characteristics, with the addition of lack of impulse control, often engaging in risky behavior and in self-destructive behaviors. People with BPD usually do not feel a strong sense of importance, but more of being misunderstood. Those with NPD feel others lives revolve around them, those with BPD will become obsessed with and feel their life revolves around another person, becoming intolerant of that person not giving them the attention they need.

Related internet articles:

Me, me, me! America’s ‘Narcissism Epidemic’

Research says young people today are more narcissistic than ever

Is Social Media to Blame For the Rise In Narcissism?

Narcissism: The science behind the rise of a modern ‘epidemic’

6 Signs of Narcissism

The love story I never knew…..

Dearest Ruth,

For once I ran out of envelopes before I ran out of paper. I guess this box of stationary was properly designed for both to just about come out the same.

Also for once I actually got my arms around you in a dream last night and saw you very plainly too. Mostly you’re just in my dreams and I feel your presence but I never actually am able to stand back and see you. But I must have been thinking of you exceptionally strongly yesterday – even more so than I usually do which is a lot. Because I remember that there was a bombing raid on and I ran into this apartment house to find you and you came out of a door and ran right into my arms. I could almost feel you in my arms and your cheek against mine and you looked very happy to see me too. Just like the first nite we met in New York – remember? Anyway it seemed so real that I woke up and was rather startled – I couldn’t figure out where I was. Next time you leave my dreams take me with you please?

Well a week from today is Valentines Day my darling and if everything goes right we will be able to mail these letters tomorrow and you will get this one not too far after the 14th. In which case will you be my Valentine? I know you will because you always have and it’s lucky I am for your the sweetest Valentine a man could ever hope for. Darling I love you very much, more than I can ever tell you and I can only hope that I can soon be with you so I can demonstrate in various little ways how great is my love for you. This year I haven’t a Valentines Day remembrance to send you. But next year I hope to bring you one personally.

Until that happy day my darling we’ll just wait and be patient. Knowing that our love and life together will be all the sweeter for our separation.

All my love,
Harry

P.S. I can’t say where I am of course but to ease your mind I can say that we are proceeding to an area relatively free from dangers. HH

 

a little locket of mom’s with a picture of dad and herself, likely from before they were married, maybe high school days.

Written February 7, 1945, this letter, written by my father to my mom while he was on a minesweeper in during WWII, was written only weeks after his ship participated in the Invasion of Lingayen Gulf, an allied amphibious operation in the Philippines to retake the bay from the Japanese. It was an operation similar to the more well known invasion of Normandy, with dozens of ship casualties, mostly from kamikaze attacks. He describes the invasion in a letter to his mother written in March of the same year. After describing the line up of ships ready to attack, he writes, “everyone has to wait until the cocky little minesweepers run in by the beaches to sweep for any stray mines before the first waves of landing craft come in. The whole gulf had been previously swept by us and the big minesweepers the 3 days prior to the landings before anyone else was there….”

I try to understand the extremes of emotions one goes through when at war, living in extreme danger, watching those around you get blown up, yet at the same time staying involved with life and loved ones back home. My father wrote my mother nearly every day, as I’m sure many soldiers and sailors did. The letters must of piled up since they were only able to send them periodically. Since their ship’s whereabouts were mostly secretive, letters to men on the ship were often delayed months. Shortly after this letter was written he received, from both grandmas and mom, the news that his first child, a son, was born January 30. Oh how the letters changed! They still began with “dearest Ruth”, or “my dearest”, and he still expressed his love and appreciation for her, but now he spoke of Kenny, or Ken, or K.B. – in every letter. He had the questions first time dads have, he wanted to know everything, he speculated on Ken’s future. He is proud and happy and clearly missed being with his new family. In the first post-birth letter he says he was “floating on the deck” and handed out cigars to all his ship mates. (This is funny because my parents never smoked, but tradition is tradition! The question is, where did he get them?)

From my perspective my father was not an emotionally expressive person, except when anger got the better of him. I never heard him say I love you or even show pride or approval to anything in my life, and I believe my brothers experience of him was similar. He did show his feelings in small ways. There were presents at Christmas that showed personal thoughtfulness. He wanted us to have life experiences, family vacations were important. He took the role of father and provider seriously, but was not emotionally connected to his children. And he always gave gifts and cards to mom for every Valentines Day, birthday, anniversary and Christmas, often very thoughtful, personal ones and always with a loving “Hallmark” type card. I think the feelings were there, but they were turned off.  Mom would say “ your father is proud of you” or some such thing, but I never knew if this was true or she was just “covering” for him.

My parents marriage, from my grown up analytical perspective, was not always easy. As a child I never felt I was growing up in a tumultuous home, but there were occasionally scary, volatile arguments behind closed doors. In many ways my parents were equal partners making major decisions together, in other ways it was a patriarchal home.

After reading letters between them before they married, as well as the small spiral notebooks kept in some secret place (a milk box or mail box?) in which they wrote notes to each other when Dad, in college, was working a graveyard shift, and Mom, younger than him, and still in high school was living with her mother, I have come to know how deep their friendship was, the strong values they shared, and the dreams they had and worked toward in their life together. I have learned their’s was a love story I never knew.

I think Dad may well have suffered from some degree of PTSD. The emotional impact of war, though recognized as far back as the Civil war, was not addressed as it is now. During the Korean War it was called “shell shock”, but the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a post Vietnam Nam War term. To be in a war zone, to participate in the killing of others and watch others be killed, any sane person would need to turn off the more sensitive parts of themselves. Some people cannot and are emotionally traumatized, others can and successfully turn that part of themselves back on once away from the trauma. Other’s cannot turn their feelings back on.

My dad had resiliency, his letters home to his wife and mom were generally up-beat, though he occasionally wrote of being homesick. He wrote about every day life on board the ship, especially the food, which was scarce in variety at times, then suddenly they’d get a drop off of fresh veggies, fruit, maybe cheese and eggs. Once there was a case of Washington apples, a treat from home for him!  He wrote about life at home, asking questions, always responding to things they would write him. Long, chatty, expressive letters, they showed gratitude for little favors done by others, like his mother sending flowers in his name when my brother was born. They also showed the practical pragmatic he was, he carefully asks about the cost of the glorious birth!

There were times I saw this expressive side of my dad, but for the most part he was the practical, the pragmatic. Late in his life, in his 70s and around the time he was first diagnosed with the prostate cancer which would eventually cause his death at 78, he began to draw, to write stories, to write poetry. I knew then there was a side to him he never attended to or nurtured, a side that wrote love letters and was able to show he cared about those he loved. There was a time that side was not turned off.

Dad with the woman of his dreams, his friend, his lover.

Dad’s dream about a bombing raid and looking for my mom in an apartment building may show his worry for those at home and the reality of living in Seattle during the war, when nighttime black-outs and a faux city was built on top of the Boeing plant to disguise it. Seattle was a target city, important to the war due to Boeing and not that far from Pearl Harbor.

The letters, diaries, little notebooks kept by my mother were not kept for others, I knew nothing of them until I cleaned out their house, yet they were preserved through various moves across the country, kept along with the cards, memorabilia and those “important” “dear Mom and Dad” letters from her children. I believe her private keeping of them was her own reserved way of honoring and cherishing the feelings expressed, especially the love. Maybe when the love was hard to see,  when their marriage was painful, she would read them.  I will never know.

I share this private love story on Valentines Day to show how love can be stifled, locked up and hard to notice.  How it can be injured. Look for it, it may just be scared to come out.

It may be in an old shoe box, hidden in an old letter.

♥️

other related stories:

Hearts and Califlower

“The Day of Days”

Natue’s Heart

Valentine’s Day

Animal Love

This is not a love story….

January holds tranquility

Are you among those who think January is a difficult month, one to ‘get through’, not necessarily a time to thrive?  The run of distracting holidays from October through New Year’s is over, the Solstice has come and gone – “hurray for the light returning”. We rejoice and celebrate, yet in truth, nights are still on the long side, and days are short and cold. Here in the north half of the northern hemisphere, skies are frequently gray.  To top it off, it’s one of the long months – 31 days!

In the NW signs of spring’s impeding arrival appear well before January 1. Many plants have fattening buds, bulbs are sending up shoots, there are even a few hardy winter blooming shrubs. Rarely do we have snow covering the ground, if at all, for more than a few days, except in the mountains. The tendency is to look for these signs, to look ahead to the season of verdant forests and colorful flowers. To be in waiting for spring.

on a quiet drizzly morn, a doe grooms her youngster.

But are we cheating ourselves? In the woods bare deciduous tree branches reach high into open skies. Unobstructed by the summer canopy of their own making, they let in the low, soothing winter light, warming the soil, teasing seeds, bugs, spores, larva, all kinds of life buried snug in the coolness. It is quiet, birds not yet ready to begin their spring flings. Many animals hibernate or semi-hibernate, and those who don’t, conserve their energy to forage for food. Nature knows better than we how to embrace each season.

Perhaps January is not just a month to endure, but a month to contemplate, dream, rest, find strength of mind and peace of heart to prepare for the energetic demands of spring and whatever the new year may bring.

It is a time to acknowledge there will always be winters in our lives, times that seem bleak.  In seeking to find peace during those times we can be more accepting of them. In allowing ourselves to rest, we will be prepared for what comes next.

Try like the trees to embrace the cool gray skies, to wait in the quiet, while snuggled in, and to listen to the secret murmurs of the new year while learning the lessons of the old.

May your New Year ring in peacefully!

 

 

Solstice

“In a way winter is the real spring, the time when the inner things happen, the resurgence of nature.” Edna O’Brien

Living in the woods, I miss the sun on the days it shines because it hides behind tall conifers. Looking forward to the sun coming out of its hiding places!

There is a moody magic to winter with its extremes of brisk windy days and calm still days. Perhaps because the northwest is my birth place and is “in my genes”, I find cloudy days and rain bring comfort. Though there is much going on around us that is upsetting, stirring the energies of our hearts and minds, try tuning into the winter message to go within, find your own stillness, make time to allow yourself to rest and incubate dreams and actions for the new year and prepare oneself for what the new year brings.

Animals know far better than we do how to honor the shifting energies of the seasons, using those shifts for their own well-being.  Some animals hibernate in winter, especially in colder climates, some semi-hibernate, coming out on warmer days to restock winter stores, clean house, and get a little exercise, those who stay active all winter sense the weather changes and behave appropriately, bedding down for a cold winter’s night or storm. A matter of survival? Perhaps we need to learn from them for our own survival! Instead, most of us  ‘soldier’ on at the same pace, winter, spring, summer & fall!

Wishing you peace and love however and whatever you celebrate during this mid-winter time!

Winter posts:

In my last post, Nature’s way & a few mandalas!, there are listed other posts for the Solstice.

The previous post, Decking the halls – wandering thoughts on seasonal decorations, lists many Christmas posts.

Spice up, warm up, your winter days! is good for self care and warm coziness through the winter!

I also highly recommend a blog post from Amadea Morningstar, a person who has been a mentor and Ayurvedic health practitioner in my life. It is a thoughtful piece to consider during these dark days of winter and challenging times, especially as we move to a new year: Moving into the new with intention and the five elements.

 

Nature’s way & a few mandalas!

IMG_0110We humans make much of changing seasons, dividing life cycles into tidy quarters, twelfths, etc. It’s understandable. Dependent on Nature, people have always strived to understand Nature’s transitions, to find order & predictability. Nature’s seasons are more a river whose waters bubble, divert and twirl even while moving predictably in one direction. Water sidetracks into eddies, reversing direction; some into calm pools, resting, taking its time; some rushes predictably, down stream and over cascades. Weather, water and plants challenge our need for predictability in life. Maverick plants bloom “early” or “out of season”, we have a Rhododendron that often blooms a single blossom in September, months after other blooms on the plant have died. Roses love to do this (thus the story of the Christmas rose.) Primulas bloom in early spring, yet the soft yellow one shown above brightens a gray December day with many blooms, joining red winter berries & evergreens. Early? Out of season? To the plant the time is just right! 💚

Nature, like life, is not so predictable!

Enjoy the coming winter solstice!

Solstice posts:

Candlemas & Imbolc

Evening Light & Tagore

IMG_9635

Snow berries brighten winter woods along with a variety of red berries.

 

Decking the halls – wandering thoughts on seasonal decorations

Most know traditional decorating ideas for Christmas go waaayyy back, ‘borrowed’ from early pre-Christian holidays in Celtic, Scandinavian and Germanic cultures. Whether to decorate or not has been as controversial as Christmas itself.  Just as there have been bans on celebrating Christmas, such as in 1647 when under Puritan Oliver Cromwell there were punishments for such celebrations in England (the political climate changed, the King restored, and so was Christmas), there are now bans on Christmas decorations in many schools and public places.  There are Christian churches that celebrate sans decorations.  On the other hand, there are Jewish families that always have Christmas trees, some jokingly calling it their Hanukkah tree.

My theory is that in the short, often dark days and long dark nights of winter, people, past and present, restricted from being outside, needed something to ‘change the scenery’ of their housebound lives, a reason to add color and light.  Ancient yule time festivities brought gaiety and light to the dark mid-winter.  Jesus came along and what better way to celebrate a birthday than with lights and decorations! Okay, the earliest record of celebrating his birthday in December is from the middle of the second century, when Christians were still a persecuted minority, so maybe they didn’t decorate too much.

(note: As for those “modern” Christmas lights that light up dark nights, in 1895 Ralph E Morris of the New England telephone company took tiny strings of lights made for telephone switchboards, put them on his tree to replace the not-so-safe candles, and the rest is history!)

Christmas decorating and decorations in homes is very personal. Look at someone’s tree and you see ornaments full of family tradition and stories. Our trees are so familiar to ourselves, but to an ‘outsider’ it’s like peering into a private room in the house! I do not have children, yet like many families, I have child-made Christmas decorations from nieces. Everyone has ornaments and decorations given as gifts, or bought on a special day, or a vintage find, or maybe an after-Christmas deal on a  box of pretty glass balls. Most trees are a miscellaneous collection of family history.  Yes, there are those who carefully arrange and coordinated “designer” trees, with color themes and ornament “collections”, those trees too give insight into the decorator.

60s set of gauzy angels – my first very own decorations.

The decorating touches people place around their homes, hang on their doors, or put outside often have stories too. If there’s no story, they at least reflect something about the person or family. As traditional and universal some Christmas decorating themes might be – Santas, snowmen, angels, wise men, the nativity, reindeer, bells, etc., individual expression and interpretations of those themes are endless, and new themes often very unique!

When cleaning out my parents house I brought home a few Christmas decorations. Some of the old ones held childhood memories. Though sentimental, I realized those  ornaments made from tin can lids, covered with glitter, were really old, no longer attractive and I was never going to use them. I kept only a few items from mom’s decorations.

50s ceramic ornaments made by mom

One year, after we’d all left home, Mom decided she wanted a blue and white tree and went out and bought blue and silver balls and white birds. Sort of a “designer” tree.  She used those ornaments exclusively only a year, maybe two. Soon more colorful family ornaments were added back in and most of the blue-tree-theme ornaments were stored away, along with the old glass ball ornaments of our childhood. Her tree eventually became an eclectic collection of little wooden figures and craft ornaments, no glass balls.

Closest I came to a “theme” tree was the tiny-teddy-bear tree one year, the santas & snowmen tree, or the all-angel tree, though none of these were without small red, green, silver and gold balls. In a small house, even a “big” tree is relatively small and easy to “themeize”.

My love of decorating for Christmas began to wane not long after Mike and I married. Besides decorating at home, I decorated the Quilcene Community Center for 9 years, and later the Port Townsend Visitor Center for 7 years, plus various parties for seniors, volunteers, etc.  I was decorated out! Marrying at 43, Mike had never celebrated Christmas as an adult, never had a tree in his “shed-boy” cabin, and he enjoyed the wonder of all my little ornaments. I kept at it quite a few years, but over the past decade, as my health and energy has been more challenged, half my ornaments have gone to garage sales and Good Will.  A pattern set in where every year I’d announce in November I did not want to “do” Christmas and if I did, it would be minimal. In early December I’d put a few boughs in a vase, set out some angels, a few Swedish gnomes and santas, gifts from my friends in Sweden, hang lights around the window, make a swag, get out the music (we both love Christmas music) and say, “that’s it.”

Then a week later I’d go in the attic, (or the years I couldn’t due to recovering from some surgery or broken bone, I’d ask Mike to go in the attic, it’s the crawl in type) to find the box of nativity sets. I’d see favorite little snow angel ornaments, or tree shaped candles, or the Lenox Christmas bowl, or we’d want more lights for dark NW evenings. Out would come boxes and suddenly there’d be Christmas everywhere! One year, after swearing we’d have no tree, I bought a previously cut, but rejected, small noble fir at a local already-closed-for-the-season u-cut tree farm on Christmas Eve and decorated it by the time Mike came home from work. For several years I decorated a potted tree on the porch with outdoor ornaments, within view of the living room. Then came the table top artificial trees (one I’d bought for mom) something I, Nature girl, NEVER thought I’d do, but a great show case, that takes up little room, for favorite tiny ornaments. Then after Christmas, every year, I’d say, as I gathered, boxed up, and put away all the stuff I’d dragged out – I’m NOT doing this again.

So here we are – first week of December. I made my November announcement. Yesterday I put boughs in a vase (they’ll dry before Christmas and need replacing – maybe with a little artificial tree?), set out a few bits of Christmas stored in my closet, played Christmas music off my iPad (forget the box of CDs, tapes, and old 33 rpm albums).  Crippled up with a painful foot (re-injured this week by a #@#* doctor), I can’t walk and can’t possibly go up to the attic. This may be the year I succeed at minimalist Christmas decorating. But there ARE those little snowman angels, the tiny nativity set and I’ve got three weeks to go.

(P.S. Mike read this and helpfully headed to the attic! I complained as he pulled out boxes, but with great reservation, took only a few more items and sent the rest back to the attic!)

Happy decorating!

See photo below for a tree from the late 1930s. my dad’s family (he’s in the middle) and a very tinseled tree (tinsel, originally made of silver in Germany, was eventually made of lead until the 1970s when it was realized lead was toxic. Yikes!)

My favorite book of Christmas trivia, used in writing this:

The Christmas Almanack, Gerard and Patricia Del Re, 1979. (Yes, that’s how they spell almanac)

other December and holiday posts:

A Christmas Eve lesson from Nature

Sweet Silver Bells

A Chaplin’s Christmas message of peace

Solstice Thoughts About Our Thoughts

O Tannenbaum!

Seasonal Reflections

“The day of days”

November 25th is the 74th Anniversary of my parent’s marriage, an event that took place during WWII the day after Harry, my dad, graduated from US Navy Reserve Midshipman’s School at Columbia University.

Ruth, my mom, traveled from Seattle to Boston on a train that also carried sailors heading home on leave from Pearl Harbor. She met and stayed with relatives she’d never met, planned her wedding to her high school sweetheart, and began a new and unknown life.

They thought Harry might have a few days off, but he was granted a few weeks, giving them a New York City honeymoon. The 7-page letter Ruth wrote to friends and family back in Seattle (using carbon paper to make several copies), chronicling this time of her life is a time capsule.  It is both a personal journal and a story of the time period.

If you enjoy the 1940s, a bit of history through personal story, and life in the Big Apple, when you could see Frank Sinatra sing on a radio show and dance to the music of Guy Lombardo, you will enjoy the chatty account of Mom’s great adventure east to get married.

A bit longer than my usual posts, I posted this as a separate web page which can be found here:  A Wedding Story

Wedding Day