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Carol Bossard

A Little Congested

This is the season of congestion and that applies to both the sniffles and the calendar.  So very much is going on ----- with friends and family --- with church events --- with entertainment possibilities---- that choices are difficult.   We returned today from an extended family gathering, and I suddenly remembered that this essay should have gone out today.  So --- you’ll have to accept that there has been a short delay due to indulging in holiday enjoyment.

TA-DA --- the pair of cardinals is back more often!  I’m still using way less of bird seed than ever before because of fewer birds.  Of course, the squirrels are still absent ---- so far, and they go through lots of bird seed when they are here.  Unfortunately, our feral cats have made a dent in both the blue jay and junco population.  I believe the elders are teaching the young ones how to hunt --- all too successfully.  We’ve been taking our cats two by two to the SPCA for neutering.  Perhaps this will stem their enthusiasm for ferocity --- though I doubt it.

This season of lights has brought illumination in many areas.  Our church sponsored a Remembrance service a week prior to Christmas.  It is a community event and we cooperate with the local undertaker.  Candles are lit for loved ones who have passed on, lovely harp and organ music is played, and it is a quiet and memory-filled occasion.  Afterward, people stay around to chat and enjoy snacks.  I think it helps to sit and remember all the good times and to share some of those with friends who are also missing people they love.

 Our personal “four days of Christmas” have been light-filled and fun too.  They began Sunday, the day of Christmas Eve. There were two church services with a tasty dinner in between, shared with good friends.  Then one of our sons, with family, came in late Christmas Eve.  And of course, Christmas morning, with two excited little girls (and four quietly excited adults) was a beautiful time.  Christmas Day was blustery and cold outside, but occasional blue sky showed through following the also occasional snow squalls.  Late afternoon brought a PicWits game that engendered some hilarity, and the day wound down quietly with music and books or crafts.  On Tuesday, our other son and his wife joined us and we had a second Christmas with a bountiful dinner and much laughter.  And today we visited with a portion more of family.  So while there are several days left of the Twelve Days, I’ve had mine squished into four days.  And lest I forget to mention the two dogs (ours, and Matt’s and Kristin’s), they certainly added to the activity.  

On the down-side, our cards are taking even longer this year.  By some miscalculation, they were run off so that the back was the front and the verse upside down.   So they all had to be re-done.  However, they will be along soon, extending your Christmas greetings by several days.  And we’ll be using the mistakes for fire-starters.

The cold weather, coming on the heels of such mild weather, takes some disciplining of the mind.  I’ve been so accustomed to dashing out to feed the birds and cats with sneakers and a light jacket that putting on boots and a heavy parka is a pesky annoyance.   I must keep telling myself that coats, boots and even gloves are appropriate for January.  The feral cats are even more annoyed than I; they keep shaking their paws and looking at me as if to demand that I get rid of that cold, white stuff or get them some booties!!   This is the sort of weather that freezes the water in the cow barns and even in the house if the wall isn’t sufficiently insulated.   And it reminds me of the years when, as a child, I slept in an upstairs bedroom that had no baseboard heat or hot air registers.  It stayed fairly moderate as long as I left my door open to get the heat coming up the open staircase.  But not moderate enough!!  My first dash in the morning was downstairs to the large hot-air register that filled a corner of the dining room.  There I would soak up the heat until summoned to breakfast and “Get off that register!!”

Cold or warm, coming up is a whole new year; a blank calendar page, pristine and unencumbered.   In reality, there are already a few appointments jotted down in my 2017 calendar, to be transferred to 2018.   However, it always lifts my spirits to at least think that I can begin a new year with fresh intentions and more choices.   Several of us were talking some days ago and the question came up: “What if you allowed your spiritual guidance to determine your calendar and activities?  How would that change your days?”  We looked at each other a bit blankly for a second and most of us admitted that our lives and what we do might change quite a bit, and probably for the good.   

I think that most of us glance at the calendar, and if we have an empty slot --- and can’t think of any good reason why not --- we agree to do whatever it is we’ve been asked to do.   And regardless of what many of us have taken to heart from our 4-H days --- the “I’ll be glad to” response ---- perhaps we need to consider longer before we say “YES”.  Should we be taking more time to rest?  Should we be spending it in ways that stretch our minds and spirits?  Are we cheating anyone by giving our time away?   Is this task a direction in which we really feel called?  And perhaps most crucial --- why are we doing it?   What is our reason; our agenda?   Time, especially as one grows older, is a precious gift.   Taking a bit more thought before we scatter our hours abroad seems like a good New Year’s resolution to me.

As we come to the end of 2017, I hope each of you can look back on the year and smile over wonderful times, laugh over exceedingly fun times, find consolation for the sad times and then look ahead with enthusiasm and wonder for the days ahead.   And with this essay, I’m sending out wishes that this year brings you joy in small things and courage in all things!!  

 

Carol may be reached at cpeggy@htva.net. 

Carol Bossard

Now, in mid-December, the days are short.   Our part of the earth has tilted nearly as far as it can from the sun.   But never fear, the darkness is about to be overcome by light once again.  The winter solstice will occur in another week.  Sociologists suggest that primitive tribes were so terrorized by the vanishing light that they performed rites designed to propitiate the gods into bringing back the sun.  But could our assumptions be wrong?   Perhaps the early people knew well the earth’s cycles, and possibly the rites were more in the nature of thanksgiving for the regularity of those cycles.  One story that I have from Dragons In The Water by Madeleine L’Engle*, has the Elder from a Venezuelan tribe as part of this conversation:   “When the great golden disc raised itself clear of the mountain the chanting became a triumphal, joyful song………………..She asked, ‘Are you here every morning?’  He nodded, smiling.  ‘It is part of my duties as the chief of the Quitzanos.’  ‘To help the sun rise?’  ‘That is my work.’  ‘It would not rise without you?’  ‘Oh yes, it would rise.  But as we are dependent on the sun for our crops, for our lives, it is our courtesy to give the sun all the help in our power ----and our power is considerable…..We believe’, the old man said quietly, ‘that everything is dependent on everything else.  The sun does not rise in the sky in loneliness; we are with him.  The moon would be lost in isolation if we did not greet her with song.  The stars dance together, and we dance with them.’”  

Currently some people have Solstice parties for fun, but perhaps also still in gratitude, to celebrate that in the dead of winter, light begins to return.  I know that I am really glad when it does.

 

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We are a week and a few days away from Christmas. The evergreen wreath is on the front door, the tree is in process, a mix of Christmas and winter music is on the CD player and the aroma of baking cookies permeates the house.  The fruit cakes are finally baked, (I can hear from afar, the moans of the fruitcake Grinches), doused with B&B Liqueur and stored away for a few weeks.  Christmas cards have been coming ---- a few every day.  Ours are not ready and I’m guessing they won’t find their way to most mail boxes until after Christmas Day.  Since the twelve days of Christmas follow the 25th ---- it’s still Christmas when we finally get them out ---- usually, that is.  One year it was well into January.  Most patient people give us until Valentine’s Day before calling to see if we are OK.  But to those of you who read this essay: MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY HOLIDAYS.


 It is interesting that there is currently so much controversy over “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays”.  I think it comes from a fear that Christmas might be lost amid the diversity of other holy days.  But the early Christians basically stole the Christmas holiday that we celebrate at this time of year, from the Roman Saturnalia.  It seemed to the early fathers (mothers had nothing to say about anything, in Rome) easier and more acceptable to use a holiday already in existence than to create a new one that would only confuse those they were trying to persuade.   They did this same thing with several holidays.  Since Christmas, Hanukkah, the Solstice, and Kwanzaa all happen within the month of December, it seems both courteous and fitting that we respect and rejoice in any holiday that encourages a  connection with a Power greater than ourselves.   Christmas doesn’t need to be defended; it only needs to be celebrated in the loving spirit that brought us Christmas over two thousand years ago.  That much love will never disappear.


Actually, there are numerous December holidays one might observe.   St. Nicholas Day is celebrated by Orthodox churches here and in western Europe on December 6th, in the Netherlands on December 5th, and in eastern churches, on the 19th.  This year, the first day of Hanukkah was December 13th..  In Sweden, St. Lucia Day is celebrated on December 13th, and some young girl is chosen to wear a white robe and the crown of candles (electric ones now, for safety) symbolizing light coming to brighten the darkness in that far northern land.  A friend tells me that in Stockholm, there is a Santa Lucia parade similar to NYC’s Thanksgiving parade.  Quite a lot of years ago, my niece, Megan, wore the white robe and St. Lucia crown of candles for her church celebration.   And of course, the Winter Solstice in 2017 is December 21st.  The day following Christmas, in England is Boxing Day --- a time to provide for the needy, and in the U.S. it is the beginning of Kawanzaa.   
By the time Christmas Eve comes, I am usually exhausted from the running, wrapping, baking and trying to remember everything on my lists.  Our Christmas Eve service comes with a welcome spirit of calm.  There is candlelight, with much music; many familiar carols, and this year the choir will be singing the Hallelujah Chorus (an awesome assignment for a small women’s choir).   The Advent candles will be lit, including the center Christ Candle, and the ambiance is breath-taking and very meaningful.   Of course, we all are alert for candle mishaps; one year someone’s hair was briefly on fire ---- no actual harm done --- but the smell of burning hair is not an incense fragrance one would choose.  When we return home, we light candles in the windows; symbolic of welcoming the Christ Child, and also our family members who come very late.


As December deepens, there is something about this time that ignites a little bit of magic in all of us no matter what our backgrounds might be.  Perhaps this season of Yule -- --Christmas --- Hanukkah is so very special because it is a continual reassurance that the darkness, no matter how dark, never has, nor ever will, put out the light of God’s goodness.  With so much darkness in the world, even here around us, we need to remind ourselves frequently that Light will always triumph --- eventually.  A favorite Peter, Paul and Mary song is “Don’t Let The Light Go Out”.  It reminds us that we each are created to be light-bearers; that we too have a responsibility to carry light with us in whatever way we can.  “And, so, Christmas comes to bless us!  Comes to teach us how to find the joy of giving, happiness and the joy of being kind.”  Gertrude Tooley Buckingham


*-Madeleine L’Engle –  American writer of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. 1918-2007
**-Gertrude Tooley Buckingham—American poet and musician. 1880-   circa 1964


Carol may be reached at: cpeggy@htva.net. 


 

Carol Bossard

Life Changes

Wasn’t that cold spell annoyingly long??!!  At least most of the days hovering around zero were clear days and that gave us a chance to mulch the roses.  Perhaps the roots won’t heave now that the weather has temporarily returned to mild.  Kerm calls roses my expensive annuals; clay soil and yo-yoing temperatures are not conducive to rose health and I must admit to losing a few now and then.  I seldom buy hybrid teas anymore because they are less hardy regardless of what the catalog says.  I usually stick with floribundas and shrub roses, only occasionally succumbing to something for Zone 5, with “ruffled petals and entrancing aroma”, delusional about my ability to protect it sufficiently.


Winter, even with its cold temperatures, snowy roads and icy steps, does have incredible beauty.  This year of 2018 began with a marvelous and immense full moon.  It shone on the light covering of snow, so brightly that it was nearly possible to read by its light.  This was a beautiful winter scene that made the extreme cold sort of bearable.  Now if the northern lights would just make an appearance; I’ve only seen them twice here; the green streaks across the sky were spectacular.

Our 12th Night party, marking the journey of the Magi, is over and the season of so much celebration has ended.  Those parties are now a good part of our history.  They have been absolutely wonderful --- for a lot of years --- and brought friends together from many walks of life.  An evening of fragrant candles, all sorts of food, laughter and good conversation is a wonderful tradition, but preparation time was getting to be a bit --- well, actually, a lot --- too wearing.  The mélange of memories from these parties, though, will warm my heart forever --- the laughter and stories and friends.   I recall the year when a family member needed to stay overnight here, and it happened to be the night of our party.  She opened the front door and just stood there, staring.  Our not-all-that-large house was wall to wall people; people imbibing fruit punch or mulled cider; people munching on cookies or enjoying bowls of soup; people standing and chatting, and every available chair taken.   To fill our cups of enjoyment to the brim now, we’ll just have to have more occasions with fewer people.   We are grateful, though, to all those who have joined us on 12th Night for these many years; all have been blessings in our lives.  

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One of the well-worn adages describing life is that the only constants are death and taxes.  Most of us, if we could get an annual shot to ward off change, would get that shot, with no questions asked about side-effects.   Coping with change requires energy and an optimistic attitude --- two things that many of us find in short supply.   However, there are some adjustments I’d actually welcome into my life: less time spent on nit-picky things like returned mail (wrong address), fewer shirts that shrink an inch shorter after the first wash, fewer people who let things fall from their tongues without first thinking about consequences, and most important -- kinder and more tolerant thoughts going through my own mind.  Change can be a good thing.  One person in my family lives with frequent change; it seems to feed his spirit.  Right now he is in Argentina, climbing a very high mountain in the Andes range.  Often he is in some far-flung part of the world, with his camera, documenting life there.  Even as I worry a bit about him, I admire his curiosity and courage ---- but, being more of a “nester”, have no desire to go and do likewise.  My hope is that I can simply learn to welcome changes significant to my life, with grace, and trust that good things will happen as a result.


I’ve thought that my mother’s generation (1898 - 1993) had seen the most incredible changes.  She moved from the horse and buggy to trolley cars to personally-owned cars to planes and computers.  But our current weekly technological changes are just as dramatic.  A new “smart phone” becomes obsolete just as quickly as an advanced model appears.  There is considerable discussion about technology and what it does to people’s relationships and social lives.  Has social media relegated actual coming together to the past?  Do we know people as well via Face Book or Twitter as we might by chatting around the table?  Do we fill our lives full with running around from task to task, contacting friends via texting and falling exhausted into our beds at night?  It is easy and safe to socialize on the surface while being really cautious about “getting involved”.  We probably should be experiencing more honest, face to face, relating.  The following story is taken from a book by Madeleine L’Engle.


“This was a story about a Hassidic rabbi, renowned for his piety.  He was unexpectedly confronted one day by one of his devoted, youthful disciples.  In a burst of feeling, the young disciple exclaimed, ‘My master, I love you!’  The ancient teacher looked up from his books and asked his fervent disciple, ‘Do you know what hurts me, my son?’   The young man was puzzled.  Composing himself, he stuttered, ‘I don’t understand your question, Rabbi.  I am trying to tell you how much you mean to me, and you confuse me with irrelevant questions.’  ‘My question is neither confusing nor irrelevant,’ rejoined the rabbi.  ‘For if you do not know what hurts me, how can you truly love me?’”*


We seldom take the time to know what hurts those around us.  We can be helpful, we can hero-worship, we can preach to, we can feel sorry for, but until we become a sincere and caring part of someone’s life, there is no depth of love and no meaningful intercourse of ideas.   This is something I need to examine in my own life ---- one of those less comfortable changes I might resist.  I am grateful for the technological assists that keep me in touch with family and friends, but when it takes the place of face to face conversation, hugs and sharing of my time and energy, then it’s time to reconsider my priorities.

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Today, as I look out on the snowy landscape, the birds are getting the last bits from the feeders; bits left by the deer who visit during the night.  It has been nice to have two or three days in the balmy 30s and looking forward to Friday’s 48 degrees. .  One of my favorite birds is the chickadee.  This small bundle of feathers is energetic, optimistic and vocal --- no matter how wintery the weather.  If only we could be similar, but I find myself more in tune with a saying by E.B. White** of “Charlotte’s Web” fame: “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world.  This makes it hard to plan the day.”  Winter weather does that too!!   All sorts of good wishes go out with this for you and your January days and may your changes be ones you can welcome.


*Walking On Water by Madeleine L’Engle—1918-2007 – American writer of fiction and non-fiction.
**E.B. White – 1899-1985.  American writer who produced several classic children’s books and was a contributor to the New Yorker magazine for 50 years.

Carol may be reached at: cpeggy@htva.net. 
 

Carol Bossard

It's A New Year

“Listen……With faint dry sound, like steps of passing ghosts, the leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees and fall.”  Adelaide Crapsey*

This weather reminds me of an autumn quite early in our marriage when we couldn’t go home for Thanksgiving.  We lived in central Pennsylvania, and a baby was due any time.  The doctor laughed when we mentioned leaving for New York State and said: “You’ll stay right here if you don’t mind”.  Well – of course, we minded, but we did stay.  We had a serene Thanksgiving Day (with pizza, I think), and took a stroll over country roads, on what was a mild day just right for walking.  And a few days later, our first child was born.  I also remembered another Thanksgiving, with one baby and one toddler, when we transported a live turkey from that same place to my parents’ home in New York State.  Kerm had won this creature in a raffle, and neither of us felt competent to dispatch, dress and cook a turkey.  So ---- he lived in a cage in our cellar for a few days, and then, still caged, rode in the back of our station wagon for five hours, to meet his demise in my parents’ back yard.   Sometimes I wonder what we were thinking!! 

Now that we’ve had some nippy days with wind and a few snow squalls, the song birds are slowly returning, but still not in the usual numbers or varieties.  The squirrels haven’t come back at all.  I’m not missing those seed-guzzling rodents, but it is unusual to see no twitching, fluffy gray tails leaping from birdfeeder to tree.  I was out today and noticed that the comfrey I had chopped down to roots is sending out green shoots.  Not good; I’m sure that tender growth will soon find itself iced into oblivion when the weather reminds us that winter is a fact of life in the northeast.

All of the food and fun of Thanksgiving is behind us (hopefully the gratitude remains), and Advent is upon us.  The hanging of the greens at church was this past Sunday and the four weeks of Advent begin this coming Sunday.  We have an annual tradition of inviting the Candor Community Chorus from the next village over, to present Christmas music at our church on the first Sunday in Advent --- which is December 3d at 6:30 PM.  They perform some of their concert music from the night before, and lead a carol-sing with people in the audience choosing their favorites.  It’s a community event with goodies afterward.   Then, with our senses sated due to beautiful music, yummy food and the fragrance of evergreens, everyone comes away feeling the Christmas season is off to a good start.  

The Sunday before Thanksgiving, our community had a combined service with almost all churches participating.  The largest church in town hosted the gathering and was full to the brim.  Afterward, we had a dish-to-pass dinner with turkey, stuffing and all sorts of wondrous foods.  As the room filled with conversation and laughter, one comment that I heard was: “Are we supposed to be having this much fun?”  This was said in jest, for of course we are supposed to be experiencing joy and delight in each other and our common thankfulness.    We’d probably accomplish more good things if we combined efforts as well as worship, more often.

Thanksgiving Day, at our house, was quiet.   Two friends came for dinner and we had an enjoyable time together.  Then Saturday, our sons and their families arrived and we had our usual slightly chaotic gathering with dinner and catching up.   As I assumed, there was another foray for deer on the hill, but apparently those creatures were off having their own party, invisible to the hopeful hunter.   Following early grazing on crackers, cheese and grapes, our dinner consisted of half a turkey (only one drum stick – TSK!) and a ham, plus delicious roasted veggies (not done by me), potatoes from our garden, salad and two GF pies; one chocolate and one pumpkin.   These were new recipes and both were tasty, but the chocolate pie was like eating chocolate ganache --- something one usually does in smaller amounts.  Even though we tried to plan for eight people instead of a hoard, we had food left over.  Since everyone has now returned home, this has diminished my meal prep for the week.  I love leftovers!!   

Our granddaughters helped with the hanging of the greens on Sunday.  Mostly the church is decorated with the warm and simple elegance of poinsettias, greenery garlands, and tea lights.  The exception to the elegance is the children’s tree in the social room just off the sanctuary and quite visible from the church pews.   That is a ten-foot wild evergreen --- not pruned at all in the manner of commercial trees.  Actually, it is often the top cut from a much larger-than-ten-foot tree.   This feral cousin of more sedate trees is decorated with a very diverse collection of created ornaments and ropes of tinsel.   Elegant it is not, but it is a way to let the children know they are as much a part of the church’s Christmas season as the grown-ups.    Hopefully they will develop balance with the tinsel as they grow older, but right now, the effect is quirky and charming (that’s just my opinion and not always shared by everyone ).  Our granddaughters, being a tad older than the other children, were a help in making sure the decorations got on the tree versus being on the floor; they were taller and could use the ladder for higher up.  They look forward to being here for this event, and I think the children of this church like having them here to help.  

We have now come to the end of one sort of year.  There are many “new years” in our 365 days.  Most of us consider that we are beginning a new personal year on our birthday.  The school year usually begins around September 1st.  The Jewish new year, falling in September/October, is past now and the secular new year is, of course, on January 1st.  The Buddhist new year follows in February.  The Christian church calendar begins with the Advent season.  It should be a time for meditation and thoughtfulness about the year past and the year ahead, but usually is filled to the brim with activities.  I’m trying to ignore the full-blast stampede to Christmas.   I’d like to enjoy those quiet beautiful days in early December, and my peace does not need to be shattered by the desperate cravings of the retail business to solidify their profits for the season.  So we mute the TV advertisements, put into recycling all the catalogs with the scary “You can still order if you hurry” message, and I’ve unsubscribed from all the miscellaneous advertising that pops up in my Email.  I hope to actively enjoy watching the landscape with all the red, pink and deep blue berries, the birds as they flit from lilac to feeder (avoiding cats ready to pounce) and listen to good music without feeling harried and hounded.   Slow down --- relax ----be aware ---- savor!   And as the earth turns toward darkness, perhaps we can all be more inclined to look upward to the stars.

Whatever creates or increases happiness or some part of happiness, we ought to do.  Whatever destroys or hampers happiness…….we ought not to do.”   Aristotle**

 

*Adelaide Crapsey----American writer, born in Brooklyn and raised in Rochester, NY.  1878-1914.

**Aristotle ---Classical Greek scholar and scientist.  834 BC – 322 BC.  A note here: the happiness referred to by Aristotle is inner joy, not self-indulgence. 

 

 Carol may be reached at: cpeggy@htva.net. 

 

 

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