it’s that time of year again….

Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
whispering, ‘It will be happier.’

Alfred Lord Tennyson


(Nany’s plant is blooming again….)

****It’s that time of year again…or so that’s what they keep telling us.
When you’re husband runs a local retail business, time and life ‘this
time of year’, is not your own….those of you who know me, know this….
And so my posting may be a bit more “lite” verses hefty and plentiful….
But I’ll do my best…..

This Christmas lily, which just so happens to be currently in bloom,
the one in the above photo, was my grandmother’s… Nany.
I’ve written about Nany’s lily before.

There is a tale of tenacity in this lily.

Nany died in 1986 and therefore I inherited the plant.
How and why I was the recipient, I don’t recall…
perhaps it was because mother had just died three months prior and poor ol dad
had no idea as to what he’d do with a plant…only to throw it out….
Having none of that, I “volunteered” to take the lily.

It was early on in our marriage and I was young…
more like stupid now that I look back on my younger self…
but I suppose we all were back then…..

I had left the plant out one night when there was a frost.
The plant died….
or so I thought.
Oh well.

Yet my husband brought the pot back inside the house, despite it being just now
a pot with a frozen brown mass of mess drooped within.

I pruned away all the dead parts and just kept the pot with it’s dirt.
Then a few weeks went by with little to no thought of the plant…that was until I walked past it one day and low and behold…a green shoot had begun to make it’s way upward…
the rest is history.

Nany probably had the plant 10 or more years before I inherited it—
making the plant…roughly somewhere between 40 to 50 years old….

Yet the plant had never bloomed.

I just thought it was a big green leafed plant that was until one year
right around Christmas.
Our son was little and we were still living in our first home,
the house before this house.
A shoot in between the midst of the large green floppy leaves magically appeared
bearing one cluster of three blooms.
It was like some kind of miracle to me.
Who knew this was a flowering plant?!

Probably everyone other than my dumb younger self.

Talk about fragrant.

So now every year since, this plant sends up a lone shoot,
during sometime each December…making it a Christmas Lily.
A small miracle taking place each year in my kitchen, where the plant now lives.

Except this year…..

This year, for the first time since I’ve had the plant, two shoots have emerged.
I don’t know if it’s some sort of sign or some sort of fluke—
I’d like to think Nany is looking down and is happy knowing she will have a great
great granddaughter in February.

I was named after both of my grandmothers…and my son and daughter-n-law are now
using my maiden name for our soon to be granddaughter’s middle name—-

Both Nany and Dad would be pleased…..

My heart is stirred by a noble theme
as I recite my verses for the king;
my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.
You are the most excellent of men
and your lips have been anointed with grace,
since God has blessed you forever.
Gird your sword on your side, you mighty one;
clothe yourself with splendor and majesty.
In your majesty ride forth victoriously
in the cause of truth, humility and justice;
Let your sharp arrows pierce the hearts of the king’s enemies;
let the nations fall beneath your feet.
Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
You love righteousness and hate wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.
All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia;
from palaces adorned with ivory
the music of the strings makes you glad.
Daughters of kings are among your honored women;
at your right hand is the royal bride in gold of Ophir.
Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention:
Forget your people and your father’s house.
Let the king be enthralled by your beauty;
honor him, for he is your lord.
The city of Tyre will come with a gift,
people of wealth will seek your favor.
All glorious is the princess within her chamber;
her gown is interwoven with gold.
In embroidered garments she is led to the king;
her virgin companions follow her—
those brought to be with her.
Led in with joy and gladness,
they enter the palace of the king.
Your sons will take the place of your fathers;
you will make them princes throughout the land.
I will perpetuate your memory through all generations;
therefore the nations will praise you for ever and ever.

Psalm 45:1-14

joy….to give or to receive…

“I don’t think of all the misery,
but of the beauty that still remains.”

Anne Frank


(the work of a day / Julie Cook / 2017)

Thanksgiving afternoon, I was complaining to my daughter-n-law, dreading the notion
of having to begin the yearly arduous ritual, of “putting up” Christmas.
Some people will go into a feeding frenzy of all things consumerism and
I will go into light mode….

“Why do we do this?” I lamented.
“Why do we work our butts off, schlepping stuff up and down from basements
and attics every year….

Why do we move all this stuff in while moving all the other stuff out…
making way for holiday paraphernalia…
just to turn around to then put it all away again in just a couple of weeks???”

I lament so because I am the one who pretty much does it all….
all the lights,
all the decorating,
all the tree,
all the buying,
all the wrapping,
all the cooking,
all the cleaning etc…
because bless my husband’s heart,
he runs a retail business.

Suffice it to know that our lives are not our own right now…
nor will they be…not until about the middle of January.

Neither my husband or I truly “get” this Black Friday absurdity that consumes
this nation of ours.
He does nothing out of the ordinary for it and I don’t even acknowledge it.
Something about the wantoness of all the materialism consuming this country of ours
just oozes of emptiness.

Why do people stand in line for hours on end when they should actually be
home just enjoying Thanksgiving, family, time off, being outside, being inside, being someplace other than a strip mall, a big mall, etc…
oddly preferring to scoop up “stuff”????
Stuff no one really “needs” to survive.

Places like Syria just keep coming to mind when I see cars parked 4 deep,
wrapped around parking lots, just so folks can buy a flat screen TV or clothes,
a mixer or whatever it is they think they JUST have to have in order to survive Christmas…
along with all the other trivial things no one really needs in order to survive.
Like I say, I just don’t get it…..

So my daughter-n-law reminds me, “well you know he really does appreciate it”
He being my only child and son who was born a week before Christmas.
Christmas is his official holiday….but certainly not his dad’s.

The night our son was born, oh so many moons ago, in the wee hours of a December Monday morning…my poor husband had to leave us shortly after the birth so he could go
open the store and work all day…after having been up all night.
Missing his only child, his new son’s first day of living…
He is remorseful all these many years later, but it was how he fed us,
and for that we give thanks.
Yet how does one ever get back time?
They don’t.

In this family of ours, there is definitely some resentment concerning the consuming madness of holiday shopping…. on all sorts of levels…
and yet our son just adores Christmas…what are those odds?!

Sigh…..

So as I was lamenting, my daughter-n-law tells me about a movie they recently went
to see —-a movie I would never ever consider watching.

They are only in their late 20’s—they watch things on television and at the movies
that I pretty much consider toxic—
of which I hope they too will soon realize as toxic…but until then,
I just pray….

My daughter-n-law relayed a line from the movie which actually resonated with me….

She said that in the movie the main character was grousing, much like I was, about
this whole Christmas business.
In walks the mother who deadpan responds….
“don’t you know, mothers don’t receive
joy, theirs is but to give joy”
(a paraphrase)

It hit me like a ton of bricks.

An understanding as to what exactly a lot of this is really all about.
It hit in certainly not a martyresque sort of understanding…but a deeper sense of understanding.

It is an understanding that none of this is about me….never has been.

It’s not about what “I” can get,
not about what I can buy,
not about what I can have….
nor is it about what I want….
but rather it’s about what I can give.

It’s about the ability to give verses the ability to get and receive….
And that giving has nothing to do with stuff—not of things gathered
from a store, or from on-line or from any place else for that matter.
Nothing tangible….

It has nothing to with with savvy shopping, marketing strategy, deals, door busters
or the madness that has become what we know as Christmas in the modern world.
A time that won’t even allow most schools to utter the word “Christmas”
but rather “winter break.”

What this season is about…isn’t about all this decorating,
or about all this consuming, or about all this buying and wrapping of “stuff”….

It’s not about the amassing or consuming….or materialism.
It’s not about the biggest gift, the best deals, the nicest trip to some
exotic wonderland.
Rather it’s about what we can offer and what we can give…

Because the original notion of this holiday Christmas business wasn’t about
Black Fridays and sale margins…it wasn’t about cyber Monday’s or on-line surfing…

It was about a gift…. but not a gift in the modern mindset of what constitutes
as a gift…

It was a single tiny gift that was actually given in order to save…
to save both you and I, as well as all of mankind, actually from ourselves….

He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything
we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.
This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time..

2 Timothy 1:9

Burn, Burning, Burned. . .out!

I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”
Jack London

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(one of the culprits on the strands of light / Julie Cook / 2014)

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(the burned out strands in the trash / Julie Cook / 2014)

The presents are wrapped, finally, and the stockings are hung—meaning— what you see is it. . .as in the decorations you see are as far as it goes–So just tell me it looks nice and lets move on. . .
The store is still busy as both time and people seem to keep coming as I’m running on fumes.
So imagine my chagrin when I came home one evening from working the holiday madness, aka retail, plugged in the tree and. . . nothing.
As in no lights.
As in a dark tree.

WHAT?

Too tired to scream, I could be heard mumbling to myself, “it figures”
Yet the girl scout in me knew there had to be some sort of remedy I could rig.
Grabbing two extension cords I began digging ever so gently through a well decorated 10 foot tree in search of the ends of the light cords I had pushed back in the branches to hide their unsightliness during the decoration ritual.
Finding the ends I began unplugging and replugging in an effort to see which cord would light and which would not.

As miracles would have it, I didn’t have to climb around all over the tree, discovering which cord was the culprit with very little wasted time or effort. . . ahhhh.
All I needed to do was to thread one extension cord up through the tree in order to plug in the good cords and run the other extension cords up to the other working cords.

Voila, a mostly lit tree with a dark mid-section—but at this point, I’ll take what I can get.

Getting home late again Thursday evening I scrambled out of the car to a darkened front porch in order to plug the lights in. . .the very ones I labored putting up around the front of the house on that blasted day known as “black friday”. As it was dark and cold, I was hurrying to get the show on the road so I could hurry up and make supper, I plugged in all the extension cords when I suddenly noticed an entire chunk of lights had burned out on the right side of the porch railing.
UGH!!!!
Great.
Now the house looks lopsided.
Clamoring around in the dark, I could be heard telling the dark of night, the lights that worked, the dead lights and anything else that was perhaps wandering around in the dark that “by God, I decorate this freaking house once a year, and I am bound and determined, as God is my witness, to light things up, and light I shall. . .”
Very Scarlet O’Hara you know—It’s a southern thing.

Fast forward to this morning.
As my oh so tired and exhausted husband headed out the door, making his way to the store to put in another solid day of making holiday cheer, aka our work in retail, I made my way to Home Depot. I had told him that I was going to go pick up some more lights before heading to the store to help (sell, wrap, greet, smile, and make merry, and curse my aching feet).
“Why in the world would you go buy new lights with only a few days left in Christmas?” he mumbled heading out the door.
“Because by gosh, as God is my witness, I decorated this house and I won’t have it half lit up as in half a&$. . .
He could be seen rolling his eyes as he got in his truck because at this point, he is so over Christmas. Plus I think he finds my Scarlet O’Hara impersonation a bit melodramatic.

Arriving at Home Depot, the place that saw my credit information stollen in the data breach they suffered earlier this year. . .as my bank account was accosted by some thieves in south Georgia, Illinois and Indiana that was luckily caught early enough before any real damage occured, I was ready to do business again, risking my bank account and identity all in the name of holiday lights.

Do you know how sad the shelves holding the holiday decor look right about now at a massive home improvement center? Kind of like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. . .empty and sparse with a few remaining boxes which look as if they’d been opened, pilfered through, stuffed back shut and left for any poor sucker who happened to come by at the 11th hour in need—such as myself.

There were twinkling warm mini lights, snowflakes, giant icicles, round colored balls, and the very retro looking giant colored lights. . .those monstrosity lights of my childhood—-the ones I hated—so tacky and garish.

I grabbed a couple of remaining boxes that had obviously been opened and hoped for the best.
Kind of the same mindset I felt when I handed the cashier my debit card–thinking here goes nothing, again, or maybe here goes everything I own again, sort of feeling.

Back home, I open up the boxes, yanking out a waded up tangled mess of lights. Just as I figured—someone either returned these puppies or either pulled them out taking a gander before stuffing them back in the box deciding they weren’t for them. Smoothing and pulling as best I could, I stretched the cord along the railing. I proceeded with 3 more boxes. As they all seemed to work, I felt a sense of relief—until the one strand filling in the area of my original area of contention began blinking.

WHAT?

The strand was also white, my other strands are green.
AGGGGHHHH!!!
Making the sound Homer Simpson makes, I see that I have all constant green wire shining lights except for a lone white wire strand that now “twinkles”—-
“REALLY?!” I am now heard shouting to all birds and any passing cars.
“Well, too bad!!!” I’m heard to exclaim to the squirrels.
I have lights, who but the raccoons and possums will notice the twinkling—any passing cars will be driving too fast but to merely briefly “ooooo” at the sight of lights as they move like a bat out of hell down the road past the house as no one drives up and down our road paying any attention to posted speed limits, yellow lines or much else for that matter, so who cares if one batch is now twinkling??!!

“By God”, I exclaim, I have lights and lights I shall!!
Makes no never mind anyway as the lights will just be coming down in less than a week.
“This is Christmas by George and we will make merry!!!”

The moral of the story you ask. . .besides being wary of using debit cards now a days anywhere or buying obviously previously opened boxes. . .
We need to be mindful that everyone gets a bit burned out this time of year, even the kids–from the constant going here, there and yon, to the constant shopping, cooking, cleaning, traveling, working, caroling– to the high expectations, the hopes, the dreams, the let downs and disappointments. . .

At first it’s just the burned out holiday lights, then the next thing you know you’re shooting the neighbors giant inflatable Frosty the snowman with a BB gun. . .
It won’t do any of us, or those around us, any good letting ourselves get all worked up in a tizzy. . .it’s best to simply let go and go on— moving forward and making “Merry” the best way we know how. . .

Now where in the h*!l is that pitcher of eggnog—you know the one. . .was that one cup of rum and one cup of bourbon per one quart of eggnog or was it two quarts of nog. . .I think I like the odds with one quart and equal ratios!!

Merry Christmas!!!

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Anticipation

“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

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(image of the Nandina bush in the front yard / Julie Cook/ 2013)

Anticipation.
It is most usually a positive state of life… be it the giddy excitement leading up to a vacation or trip of a lifetime, the welcomed relief of a loved one’s long awaited homecoming, the expectant arrival date of the birth of a child, or even the sweet relief to the end of a school term…all are looked upon with a delightful sense of expectancy, joy, and the visualization of something most exciting and / or pleasurable which is about to take place. It’s what gets us over the humps and through the low doldrums of life.

Of course we can counter the positive anticipation by coupling it with a sense of dread, worry or foreboding— as in the stressful prepping before a major test, the nervous waiting for a required surgery, an isolating time of servitude, or the poignant end of something most special.

Either way, the anticipation aspect of any event is 9 times out of 10 the most potent component of any situation— with the actual event taking a bit of a backseat to any sort of “lead up” time.

How many times, as children, were we overtly full of such rapt anticipation, awaiting Christmas and the visit of Santa, that we were beside ourselves with energy, delight, agitation and sensory overload?! It was as if by the time Christmas morning finally rolled around, we felt somewhat let down, disappointed or either our eyes were so glazed over from the anticipatory overload that we found it difficult to maintain the exhilarating high we’d been riding since Thanksgiving.

Our western culture seems to have mastered the art of anticipation—as you are no doubt hearing Carly Simon singing her most notable song in your head as you visualize ketchup slowly making its way from bottle to bun…anticipation sadly or joyously drives our economy.

For my generation it was the arrival of the 4 inch thick Sears catalog. I would spend hours eagerly marking page after page, item after item, for mom and dad, and of course Santa, to fill my hopes and dreams. For today’s kids, it is a true sensory overload as they absorb larger than life, high definition, clear images on their 50 inch plasma interactive televisions of the latest gadgets and gizmos, jewelry and designer this and that which they must receive in order for their lives to, sadly, be complete.

Times Square screams such with it’s constantly moving, undulating, bigger than life, ever-changing advertisements… as the same can be said world wide from Tokyo to Hong Kong, to London to Pairs—bright lights, bright colors, big, large, giant images and pulsating sounds of which are all intended to hypnotize us into a glazed trance of believing that we must have, be a part of, or become these glamours images in order to reach our individual utopias as we are dressed and sporting everything the same as the person next to us…hummmm

I say all of this with a bit of reflection. It was the other Sunday evening when I accompanied my poor husband, who owns a small business in our community and who has spent his entire life in retail, as he went to check his store—just as he does each Sunday evening, the only day the business is thankfully closed.

As we made our way back to his truck, having completed the week’s deposit, in the darkened nearly empty parking lot, we couldn’t help but notice a small bevy of vehicles parked just outside of Bath and Body Works. It was well after store hours as all the other businesses were dark and shuttered for the night. There were a dozen or so employees busily decorating the store for, what else, Christmas. It was November 3rd.

My husband let out a long heavy sigh. “I can never remember a single Christmas or Thanksgiving that I have ever really enjoyed” he sadly lamented. I’ve been married to him now going on 31 years— I know this. He is 64 years old and from the earliest time of memory he has spent the “holidays” wrapped up in his family’s business giving way now to his own business. It is indeed a love / hate relationship which sees owners and employees moving momentum from one holiday to the next, riding the perpetual holiday wave as it were.

The hours, the time, the energy, the demands, year after year, have grown exponentially. Way back when, back in a vastly different time in this country, businesses closed at noon on both Wednesdays and Saturdays with all businesses being closed on Sunday. Slowly that has all changed. Businesses, if they expect to stay competitive or just viable are open 7 days a week at least 12 hours a day. Add to those hours during the Holidays.

Black Friday does not signal Christmas, a time of our Holy anticipation, that of the Advent leading to the birth of a Savior, but rather it is the marking of a feeding frenzy. A need to feed an unquenchable thirst and hunger of and for consumerism which gives way to our obsession with materialism. It has nothing to do with what Christmas, or even Hanukkah, is actually all about but rather it has everything to do with our economy and the need to feed it.

My daughter-n-law “to be” lamented this morning that her cherished pumpkin lattes from Dunkin Doughnuts are on the last call list as they are making way for the Christmas flavors. It is November 5th. I thought Pumpkins and Spice were the sights and scents of November… as in Thanksgiving, as in the end of the month, not the beginning of the month. Weren’t we just trick or treating last week?

A dear friend of mine in Florence, Italy, whose family has had a business in that most magical and historical city for almost 150 years, was recently lamenting that the Ministry of Commerce and the governing officials there in the city of Florence are pressuring all businesses to stay open 7 days a week, 365 days a year and to forego the siesta hours of closing for lunch. An entrenched way of life and of a culture being told to change to meet the growing and insatiable appetites of a hungry consumer driven populace.

I just wish things were different. I wish we could all just slow down, savoring the time and seasons of our lives..relishing life rather than the empty things that we hope to gobble up in order to fill it all full…

Just like Pooh in today’s quote–the eating of honey is really wonderful but it’s the time, the magical time, leading up to the actual eating that seems even more sweet… Here is to the sweet anticipation to all of those magical moments in your life. . .make time to enjoy every moment.

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