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Chandra's Blog

 

Entries in ritual (4)

Tuesday
Dec252012

It's a Christmas miracle. Again.

Let's be honest. Every Christmas is riddled with miracles, not the least of which is that we pulled it off, again. Moms and Dads (and grandparents and generous aunts and uncles everywhere), we did it. This was what J said as he raised his mug of late night coffee to me. We did it. This time last night, we were creeping upstairs knowing the kids were waking up to this:

 

Christmas eve 2012

I don't just mean the STUFF--the tree and the nativity, the advent stockings, the Elf, the wrapped books and art supplies, the coveted goalie pads and iPads.

As my favorite holiday, I take Christmas very seriously. I have written odes to my favorite books of the season as well as my favorite songs. I carefully consider the impact of gifts, from every aspect. Equitable, environmental, developmental, and of course, the WOW factor.

So when I say we did it, I mean that we followed our family rituals in hopes of creating tradition and maintaining a sense of the magic. This year, that felt extra miraculous. And not for the obvious reason that we hit the ground running from our Utila Vida Tranquila three weeks ago. 

In a whirlwind short span of time, we went from lazy days of hermit crab races, slow snorkeling and boat commutes to fast food, a dozen hockey games and a tank of gas in two jam-packed weekend days. 

Piper, back on the ice

The first wrench in the holiday works was Sampson, who must have gained twenty pounds (fifteen of it fur!) under the loving care of Aunt Kim and Uncle Matt. What's Christmas without a little dog blog drama? 

A week ago, we experienced some unseasonably warm weather and hockey practices were canceled, so the kids took Sampson fishing. What is more idyllic than kids and their dog, fishing? I put down the presents I was wrapping, opened the window and snapped a photo. Shortly after the below photo was taken, Hayden came running to the house and confessed tearfully that as he was changing his tackle from catfish bait (hot dog and hook) to bass lure, Sampson lunged and swallowed the bait--literally hook, line and sinker. 

I'm going to give away a little free veterinary advice, in case this horror happens to any of my dog-loving friends: if your dumb dog swallows a fish hook, you do not rush him to the vet for emergency surgery as we were imagining. Instead, we were instructed to feed Sampson a dozen cotton balls slathered in peanut butter. And bread too, if we could get it into him, also with the peanut butter and American cheese. The idea being that these items would form a protective barrier around the hook and it would pass through safely.

freshwater fishing--kids and their dog

 

 

 

Then, you wait. And watch. And sift hopefully through every cottony turd. Hayden took on this task with me, and sometimes as we shivered outside with a flashlight and some plastic forks, mouth breathing from the steaming stench of it, he would say that this was all he wanted for Christmas, for Sampson to be okay, for the hook to pass through without damage. A Christmas miracle. 

As of Christmas eve, the last time we officially looked, we had not found the hook, (non-chrome hooks can actually be dissolved by a dog's stomach acid) but it looks like Hayden may have gotten his wish, freeing us up to enjoy Christmas. 

This morning, when the kids crept up the stairs and into our bed to wake us for stockings-breakfast-presents, Piper did not say, "Merry Christmas," but instead, "My stomach hurts." We led her down the hall, video camera rolling, to show her the big gift, what had kept me and Mr. Claus up banging around and socket wrenching until all hours of the night, taking the king size family bed out of her tiny room and assembling her new bed. The boys, who were in on the surprise, threw open her door for the big HGTV reveal, and in what is destined to become a home movie classic, Piper promptly threw up.

From then on, Christmas took a slight veer off the predicted path of our usual ritual. Instead of stockings-breakfast-presents, everything was punctuated with vomiting. Poor Pip insisted the show go on, with her bravely participating. She would open a present, give a weak smile, and then yak a little more foamy barf into her bowl. Midday, the two patients retired to try out her new bed. This is how they spent the rest of the day:

 

The three boys went off to play some family hockey, and I rattled around the house, reflecting and cleaning up. Peeking in on the two of them, counting my blessings that Sampson and Piper both seemed to be resting comfortably, I said a small prayer of gratitude.

We did it. Again. Another year; Christmas miracle. 

* *** *

 

 

Saturday
Dec172011

Favorites on Friday-Letting Go

Everyone has a favorite holiday--mine is Christmas. I wrote an ode to the ritual of Christmas last year, on the importance of making the magic for my own family as my parents made it for us. This year, I want to honor the opportunity that this time brings for letting go. Christmas in America has come to mean a time of excess--excessive splurging and gorging and maxxing out and doing it all. I recently overheard my uncle ask my mom how she was doing with holiday prep and she said, "Frantic!" and he said that he believed that was an honorable celebration of Christmas--can you imagine how frantic poor Mary felt having to travel so close to her due date, to be taxed, and then go into labor and have to give birth in a barn? 

But I don't want to be frantic, and I don't want to scramble to do all the things that will make the magic so that I risk losing some of what I am really craving: peace, and time with people I love. 

It's easy to get comparative at Christmas. My kids complain that we don't decorate our yard with inflatable snow globes or hang icicle lights from our eaves. I use the excuse that we live far off the street to get out of the snow globe horror, and that our eaves are two precarious stories up--do they not remember how many times Daddy dropped the F-bomb as we maneuevered the ancient, creaky extension ladder up to the roof so he could teeter up there and spray/silicone the hole where the wasps were coming in last month?!

It is also easy to compare this Christmas to ones that came before--we're not going to the Caribbean (because of hockey and an adolescent Sampson who cannot be left for two weeks) and I worry, when the rest of the family leaves, will they be sad? And what about presents? Did we buy enough WOW gifts? Enough surprises and treasures and presents? Are there too many useful items like clothes and toothbrushes and new boxer shorts?

I ordered my Christmas cards early, but with this photo as my frontrunner, you might wonder why most of them are still sitting in the box, half-addressed? It's far from perfect, but it captures the essence of this year pretty well:

 

CHRISTMAS CARD 2011And though I managed to get three chocolates into each of the advent stockings that hang in the garland up the stairs, in early December I was crushing to get my second novel off to my agent and didn't put in slips of paper with carefully thought-out, festive directives of past years:

do a good deed for someone

set up the LGB train

go for a night drive and look at Christmas lights

watch the Grinch

bake Christmas cookies for the classrooms

go to the Tableaux

learn a Christmas song on the piano

help Mom stamp the Christmas cards

read Jan Brett's "Christmas Trolls"

go on a date with Mom/Dad to buy presents for siblings


While we are managing to do most of these things, I worry that it is not with anticipation and mindfulness, with the ritual I had hoped. The Tableaux were a disaster--Max had binged on three (five?) donuts at our three morning hockey games and was a full-on grouchy Scrooge, despite the fact that his beloved Harper was playing the part of the baby Lord. Piper upon spying her best friend in the processional, had a screeching tantrum about not being able to sit with Ellery--the accoustics in the Cathedral are really something.

We did manage to bake the cookies for their classroom Christmas parties, but they look more Cake Wreck than blog-worthy and I kept reminding myself that it is the PROCESS, not the PRODUCT.

 

One Piper piping...

the product 

I do these instead of individual classroom gifts because I maintain that there is nothing I want to buy that I can afford sixty of as classmate gifts, and there is nothing I want to receive that someone else bought sixty of, (see my post on plasti-Christmas-crap)

I worry my kids are a little let-down by this--that when everyone else is handing out Santa erasers and foam picture frames from Oriental Trading Company, they have a tray of cookies to share, but they did report that our less-than-beautiful cookies were a huge hit and brought home nothing but crumbs, much to J's chagrin. 

 

 

I am committed to letting go this year. Everything will not be perfect. The majority of the hundreds of items the kids have initialed in the toy catalogs will go unpurchased.

(We have often said it would be easier and save ink if they just initial the handful of items they don't want.)

But there are presents under the tree, puzzles and books and new hockey equipment and Legos and Beyblades and snowpants and handsewn Ugli dolls and dollhouse accessories and clothes and (shh! an iPad2) and I hope that by the time Christmas comes, I will have made peace with all the things I didn't do or buy or finish... 

Yesterday, my sister and Harper and Quinn were here to bake cookies, address cards and for me to work on sewing Harper's quilt. Instead, I lay down on the couch with the baby on my chest so my sister could stuff her cards. Instead of baking cookies, Piper and Quinn played with the wooden nativity and rescued the baby Lord from Sampson's jaws, peppered with multiple live re-enactments of the Christmas story.  It is easy to let go when you see that there is magic happening, even if it is not the one you scripted.

Piper and Quinn play Mary and Baby

 

Monday
Dec272010

MONDAY MUSING--Is the magic in the ritual?

Christmas is all packed up here, less than 48 hours after the event. Part of this is because we are taking our annual winter journey to worship the sun and sea in Grand Cayman before New Years. But another truth is that I can't stand having the accoutrements around after the magic has happened--it's like being the person who comes to sweep the set of a beloved stage or screen show, to see that the furniture and props are just... things. When they are part of the magic, the buildup, the advent stockings hanging on my staircase are festive. When there are no more anticipate-the-holidays activities scribbled on slips of red cardstock and chocolates tucked inside them, they are just drugstore felt stockings stapled to ribbon cluttering up my house. 

 

And as you know from my post on Christmas books, we pack these and their friends the holiday movies away with the ornaments and nativities. I am militant almost about safeguarding the 'magic'. To be honest, there is a part of me that is completely cringing about writing about Christmas on December 27. Shouldn't we be moving on, writing about resolutions or our new snowfall? part of me thinks. But I have been thinking about the ritual of Christmas a lot this year.

My sister and I were up texting after midnight on Christmas eve, our sewing machines humming along. Her two-year-old had sleepily said she hoped Santa would bring her a snowman, so Linden (who lives in the Caribbean) was up making a snowman for Quinn out of felt and buttons. On my end, I had sewn a modified "Ugly" doll for Hayden out of his old hockey pants--part stuffed animal, part hot-water-bottle holder for his night pains, and when I saw it set out by his stocking, I just knew Max was going to feel gypped, so I was whipping up a blue fleece bat/owl type creature. We were texting back and forth photos of our projects, and expressing the hope that the Christmas magic we grew up on had been created. 

For us, a huge part of this magic was the heavy, unaltered and beloved ritual my parents created around Christmas.

The Christmas of my childhood has weeks of lead-up that I won't bore you with--everyone has things that bring the season to life for them. We did too; songs, Tableaux, and the traditional goose dinner with my grandparents on my mother's blue and gold wedding China, new Christmas flannels, and reading aloud from Clement Moore. But the real ritual began Christmas morning, in a near-sacred order that stretched every Dec 25th until mid-afternoon.

My four siblings and I woke each other up and waited in our bedrooms, peeking across the hallway at each other, until the appointed time. I made sure everyone had brushed and gargled--my hyper-sensitive sniffer wanted nobody's morning breath wafting my way on the next part: waking my parents with a serenade of "Merry Christmas Bells Are Ringing." A quick cuddle in their bed, and then on to stockings in the living room. My mom knit all of our stockings, beautiful, matching and personalized, but they were never where we hung them on the fireplace. They were tucked into a pile, a bounty of stuffed animals and presents and extras. These we opened as my Dad laid a fire in the fireplace, calling out grateful 'thank you Santas'.

 

I marvel about the next part of the ritual as a mother: breakfast. Somehow, my mother managed to clean up from a full goose dinner for at least ten people on Christmas eve, and on Christmas morning, the table would be re-set with that same classic China, grapefruits halved and sugared at each place setting, holly sprigs in the napkin rings, homemade sticky buns in the oven. My dad made coffee and scrambled eggs with cream, and there was stollen and bacon. My sister-in-law and I were shaking our heads over this as we cleared the table Christmas eve this year, my mom shuffling around, HELPING, with her walker as she learns to walk after her shattered femur last June. How did she do it, all those years? How did she prepare these incredible meals, and clean, and do the wrapping and the stockings, and make all that magic? A wonder woman, we decided, who was also willing to do what we are not: all-nighters. 

After sit-down breakfast, we had worship--a reading aloud of the Christmas story, a few carols. If someone had learned a religious piano song (seven years of lessons, and the only piano song I can play from memory is Greensleeves) they played it. 

Between stockings and a sit-down breakfast, by the time worship was over, it might be ten, or even eleven. At long last, the deliciousness of presents could begin! We had appointed places in the living room where we sat, year after year. The elves--my brothers--would distribute the presents from under the tree to each person's station, careful to avoid or sometimes employing the aid of the clickety-clacking LGB train. 

Presents were opened in specific order, SLOWLY, one at a time, youngest to older, in repeating circles, until we were finished. With an original family of seven, this could go on until the afternoon, when the ritual ended with wrapping paper tossed in the fireplace, and my mom doling out our laundry baskets to carry our loot back to our rooms. 

 

Magic. Memories. Ritual. One Christmas four years ago, when there were just the two boys and my in-laws were here for the holidays, we let Hayden and Max tear through stockings and presents in a hazy, frenzied, fifteen-minute blur. No appreciation, no thanking the giver, adults milling around making coffee and trying to get the boys to eat something other than chocolate Santas for breakfast. No candles lit, no reading of the Petersham's The Christ Child, no carols. Just hysterical, rampant gimmes. 

 

I felt sick afterwards, stuffing torn wrapping paper into trash bags, the boys looking up at me like, "that was it?" It was barely eight-thirty. I took a walk that afternoon and vowed that I would bring the ritual, the magic to my children. I've been doing it ever since. As we set out the stockings on Christmas eve, I heard my oldest, my nine-year-old fellow Virgo reminding the other two how it would go: stockings, then breakfast, then worship, then presents, ONE AT A TIME. 

 

I don't do China or a big sit-down breakfast--our wedding China is still in its original packaging in our basement. And we've added our own flair; letters from Santa and reindeer chow debris greet them first thing, and a departure note from "Cheese", our elf on the shelf. I light candles scented like pine and poinsetta. My Dad comes over and makes scrambled eggs with cream, Jon brews excellent strong coffee and we have gluten-free sweet potato waffles with Nutella. This year, for the first time, my kids were so much more excited about giving than getting, desperate for everyone to open the gifts they had made or selected. Slowly, (okay, semi-slowly), one at a time, in order of age, while the LGB clickety-clacked around the track.

 

 

 

I think now, that the magic is in the ritual, and in the sentiment, maybe, in the care of creating and preserving tradition. I hope your Christmas was merry. Now, pack it up and let's move on. 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday
Nov242010

Monday* Musings -- Thanksgiving Tree

 

Yesterday my sister, who lives in the Cayman Islands, and I were on the phone working out amounts of our allotted Thanksgiving contributions. She arrives tonight and her job is pies; I’m on stuffing.

            “I thought I’d make three, maybe four,” I said. “Regular,” which means my Mom’s recipe with Stroehmann’s white bread and lots of butter and marjorman but no apples, “gluten-free for my guys, maybe an oyster one for Dad, and Stove Top for Nick.”

            She agreed, and we moved on to how many of each pie she should make.

            “There’s just the sixteen of us this year,” she told me.

            Could that be right? My sister and I ticked off on our fingers, bewildered. Can our immediate family, our parents, siblings, spouses and niece/nephews, minus our Colorado brother and his brood, really only be sixteen people?

            It has been nine years since my parents separated and sold the cabin in the Catskills that had always been our childhood Thanksgiving destination, a traditional feast with at least three great browned birds and as many relatives, friends, love interests, stray dorm students and pets as we could drag along—the dining room table there could comfortably seat thirty and there was always room out by the gigantic fireplace for roasting and peeling chestnuts.

            (You can read more about how my perception of the meaning of Thanksgiving dinner growing up ‘the peaceful din of chaos’ made its way into my argument for why we needed to have more than two children in my article Are You Done? here)

            It can be hard to let go of your origins, of what traditional used to mean. Our family has had nine years of other Thanksgivings, some of them together, sometimes in Pennsylvania, sometimes the Caribbean, my various siblings scattering to their in-laws as we married and made families, traditions of our own. 

            For me, this now includes a Thanksgiving gratitude tree, where I walk in the woods with my children sometime before the feast and find a suitable branch, and we write what we are grateful for on paper leaves, followed by the date, and hang them all on this branch.

 

 

Some of my favorites from the past include:

            “Scooby Doo, Fred and Daphne, and Velma” – Max, 2007 (age 3)

“Thankful for trees that give us oxygen and bald eagles” -- Hayden, 2008 (age 7)

            “For LIFE” – Papa Joe, 2008 (age 86)

"For my baby sister, Piper, and my suckerfish" -- Hayden, 2007 (age 5)

            “Calloway’s Bar and Modern Warfare” – cousin Kian, 2009, (age 28)

            “Wagons” (????) Max, 2009 (age 5)

            “Hope, and the visitation of dragonflies” – Chandra, 2008, (age 34)

 

 

QUESTION: I’d love to know what Thanksgiving means to you, what traditions you love, miss or are making this year?

 

*Savvy readers will note that this MONDAY MUSING is showing up on a Wednesday. Sorry for the hard drive hiccup!