Spirit of Christmas, through a child’s eyes

Yesterday, we were headed to the Seattle airport to fly to Denver. Christmas in Colorado is always a good thing, and Christmas with our son is even better.

This was a year to celebrate early with the Littles to accommodate shared family time.

I was riding in the back seat with Riley, watching her draw a holiday scene with six-year-old skill, the faces of her stick figures showing that charming combination of cartoon, and child-view of what humans really look like. (Hint, they have very big eyes.)

She was absorbed in her drawing, the others in the car were caught up in their conversations.

Something caught her eye, and looking out the window, she said, “I see homeless!” We were driving past the over-passes in the downtown of Seattle, and you can often spot tents and temporary shelters that homeless folk have set up. Riley has seen those tents before, has a child’s concept of what “homeless” means.

She looked at me with troubled eyes. “Are some children homeless?”

Yes, I was honest with her. There are many homeless children.

She grew quiet, looked thoughtful.

“I want to have homeless children come to my house for Christmas.”

I didn’t try to tell her that’s not really practical, or even possible. I saw it, in a flash of her six-year-old eyes. I saw awareness that she had more than some, and that awareness triggered a generous impulse. It was the impulse of a child, who doesn’t understand the complexities of social issues, or logistics, or the cost of anything.

She just wanted to help children who are less fortunate.

Like many Americans of my station in life, I worry a bit. Especially this time of year. I can’t help but wonder if Riley and Jack will be spoiled, the product of well-intentioned family and parents, who want to give them a good life.

It’s easy to give to the point of doing damage, and while my daughter and her husband are thoughtful about the gifts they give the Littles, they can’t control everyone around them. The reality is that many American children have too much stuff, but not enough of the right stuff.

Seeing Riley’s face, looking out the window, thinking about homeless children who will not wake up to a warm and merry Christmas, I felt reassured for her. She’s getting it, the real meaning of the holiday, which is all about giving…the ultimate gift.

And it made me think…what if adults could be more focused on just doing what needs doing, less caught up in the political / social / financial aspects of reaching out? Yes, I understand that it’s easy to talk about doing for others, but the moment you begin to think about how, you’re confronted with difficult realities. Which is probably why most people, myself included, are usually contented with giving money to charities, and tell ourselves we’ve done our part.

Riley made me think about that in a different way. This year, I want to be more hands-on. I don’t know what that could look like. But I think it could be good.

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You never know what seemingly insignificant moments will impact life. I couldn’t guess, sitting beside Riley yesterday, if that moment will stay with her, shape her in years to come. Maybe. Maybe not.

But I think it was a moment that will stay with me. It was a moment when a child reminded me, in the midst of Christmas travel and gifting and busy-ness, what we should really be about…not out of guilt or pressure, but because sharing with those who have less is the right thing to do. I know that, and I practice that. But Riley reminded me that at least some component of giving should be done in person. That’s when we know the real meaning of sharing…when we connect face to face.

I shared this story to encourage, not to guilt, and to promise myself that I want to give differently. So much of my giving is convenient, sanitary, impersonal. There is value to giving money, I don’t want to minimize that. But I want to acknowledge, it’s not really personal.

Thank you, Riley, for the Christmas lesson, though you weren’t aware it meant anything to me.

And I thought she was the one learning the lessons of life!

Blessings, peace, and Merry Christmas!

~ Sheila

 

 

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Merry Christmas!

Beautiful!

Merry Christmas friends!

~ Sheila

He’s on the way!

Look who I found at the Seattle airport last night, headed north!

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We came down to be part of this:

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I told Riley and Jack Santa was making a last minute stop in Seattle to check on the kids here…see how they’re doing, before heading out on his Christmas Eve trip.

This morning we did a few last-minute errands…stocking stuffers, an impulse buy or two. This afternoon we’re cooking, and watching holiday movies, getting excited.

Oh, it’s the good stuff!

The boy is three, just this month, and the girl is five. Perfect ages to drink in the fun, the rituals, the excitement. Jack occupies himself with checking out the gifts under the tree, asking if it’s time to open yet, hearing (again) we have to wait until Christmas morning; he wonders which are for him. He shakes them and looks at them, identifies what belongs to who, makes stacks of his boxes.

It’s a hard thing to wait until the time is right, when you’re three.

Riley sings favorite songs, “Rudolph,” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” She absorbs the traditions, knows we have to put out cookies tonight.

They’re ready. The adults are not quite. But we will be, before the littles get up tomorrow, bright and early.

Stockings wait to be filled, cinnamon rolls will be made tonight, ready to pop in the oven in the morning.

Is it perfect? No, it’s never perfect.

Is it magic? Yes.

They’re five and three. And that’s magic enough for me.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

~ Sheila

 

 

 

Cranberry relish on my table

In this season of holiday meals, of traditional foods, one of the debates that’s ongoing is over the delicate subject of cranberry sauce: do you have what you grew up with (for me it was the jellied sauce that pops out of the can, complete with the ringed indentions of said can) or do you go for something homemade?

To be honest, I have to have both…a nod to my past, and the sauce of my childhood. (I’m not sure fresh cranberries were even available in the market in my childhood years, so far did we live from the source.) And I love a berry-filled, sweet/tart version, simple and yet perfect to grace any table.

It’s been a while since I posted a recipe. Possibly that’s because I’ve been in the kitchen less in the past year than any time in my life.

But even I, living a couple of weeks here and there at a time, have to do some holiday prep. There are a few dishes I love, that are the essence of the winter holiday flavors for me.

One of these is the homemade cranberry relish that’s on the menu every Thanksgiving, and often at Christmas too. It’s so delicious and simple, and pairs beautifully with all sorts of savory dishes. But the important thing is that it tastes amazing. And it’s beautiful. And it’s easy, and keeps for weeks in the fridge. How perfect is that?

Baked Cranberry Nut Relish

  • 1 lb fresh whole cranberries, washed and drained
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1 1/2 cups orange marmalade
  • Juice of one lemon

Combine cranberries and sugar in deep baking dish. Cover with foil and bake at 350° for one hour. Spread walnuts in a shallow pan and toast in oven during the last 10 minutes of baking time for cranberries, stirring walnuts a couple of times. Remove cranberries and walnuts from oven, combine in bowl with marmalade and lemon juice. You can serve warm or chilled. This will keep for several weeks in the fridge. Perfect for gift giving…fill jars and add the recipe for an easy and charming hostess gift or stocking stuffer.

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Best of Christmas

This is a most unusual Christmas season. But it’s already one of my best.

I don’t have a tree, or even a home for the tree I don’t have. I haven’t decorated anything, and don’t plan to. That just isn’t the focus this year.

But this is what I do have:

~ I’ve bought gifts and planned surprises, some on my own, some with the help of elves. From a kitchen faucet to movie passes to legos to all things Amazon…Brings a smile to my face to play Santa!

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~ I wrote cards to friends. For years I was a dedicated card-sender. And then a few years back, I just stopped. It was a difficult season for me, that year, and I didn’t do much of my usual holiday routine. Since then, I’ve mostly ignored that tradition. But this year, I wanted to do it again. It feels good to restore that custom.

~ I’ve listened to beautiful music…ah, the wonder of music! Thank you to Spotify and Pandora, companies that give me beautiful and beloved music to enjoy, courtesy of the wonder of internet radio.

~ I’ve read. Inspiring words of faith, insight, truth, mercy, sacrifice…how they move me to be a better person, a stronger person, a more generous and loving person! Thank you to the gifted writers and voices who remind me to cherish what is truly important in this life.

~ I’ve baked! Even the clinic housing apartments we stay in when we’re working have ovens (!), and I’ve baked gingerbread and treats that fill the air with Christmassy scents. It’s comforting to find myself in the kitchen, even if it’s not “my” kitchen. Food is one of the ways I connect with people, with memories, and with creativity. It soothes me and settles me, takes me to a feeling of home.

~ I look around and see joy. I sat in the Seattle airport Sunday afternoon, en route to work in Alaska for the ten days before Christmas, and I found magic, right there in the big center food court. A talented musician filled the air with holiday tunes, there was hustle and bustle all around, the light streamed in the huge window that looks out onto the runway, and I was grateful to be there, in the moment.

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~ I anticipate. I look forward to seeing and being seen. We’ll be with family for Christmas and New Years, and we’ll smile big, eat well, laugh, cry, be silly. We’ll look at one another and say, “this is the good stuff.”

Version 2

Life isn’t about perfection. It is about minding the minutes, seeing the good in the cheerfulness around, in the thoughtful words, the helpful acts of kindness. It is about love, and grace, forgiveness, and trying. Especially it is about the trying, for that’s really all we can do. We try, and sometimes we get it right.

I’ve never understood why some Christmas seasons are so beautiful, so perfect, even without perfection, while others can seem right, look right, but never really take root in my heart. Why is that? I don’t know, can’t put my finger on just what makes some years magical, and other years mechanical. I know it’s not for lack of heart, or desire. But there it is, just one of the realities of life.

Magic moments are mercurial, they don’t come with explanation or make sense; they’re shimmery things, like bubbles. You have to cherish them when you feel them.

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It’s a grace-filled time, this season, and I’m grateful. So grateful.

~ Sheila

Christmas Eve

Another Christmas! This one is unique, and will take its place in the hall of Christmas memories. All years have their special joys, and some bring special sorrows. And sometimes the combination of the two lends the greatest poignancy. On Christmas Eve, I slow myself to think, and to absorb.

I mark the mystery. I celebrate faith in an event that shaped the world. Expectation hangs over the season and the day, mirroring the waiting of birth and the joy of new life. Faith is personal, but faith is also shared, and joyously visible in words and symbols. Faith is on display, a reminder that I am not alone. I will never be alone.

I mark the magic. I drink in the sight of children who are just old enough to realize: something is happening, something is coming, something is in the air. The growing awareness, the wonder, the anticipation…does it ever get old? And does it ever lose the power to restore a grown-up’s heart to child-like innocence? Children remind us that there is always goodness in life, always hope, always a reason for gratitude.

I mark the memories. Scenes from the past flood my thoughts as special moments flood my heart. I remember giving, and receiving; gifts that were unexpected, and all the more precious for the surprise; the times when we could say, “this is the good stuff.” I look at the loved ones in my life who celebrate with me and know: I am so blessed. I think of the ones who are no longer here, no longer part of the family scene, and know: they are so missed. The blessing and the missing get tangled up in my heart, until I hardly know which is which. Blessing and missing are inseparable realities of the day, and how could it be any different?

I mark the miles. The days of being surrounded by family are long gone. It’s hard to get everyone together…just too many challenges of distance, schedules, ages, and needs. But I’ve learned to appreciate the people and the moments, and if some gifts are exchanged before, or after, Christmas Day, well…it isn’t the opening that counts, it’s who you’re opening with. And sometimes you have to adjust your schedule to open gifts with family who are far and wide in many time zones. The important thing is that distance doesn’t separate hearts, and time zones don’t prevent us from sharing.

Tonight I’ll make my traditional foods for tomorrow morning, homemade cinnamon rolls and hand-rolled sausage balls. I’ll make full batches, though we don’t have a big group this year. But we’ll share around, and spread the joy, and snap photos. And we’ll mark this year’s surprises. We’ll add to the collection of memories, sweet and funny, heartwarming, and yes, the bittersweet. And in the end, I know we’ll say, “this is the good stuff.”

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Lighting the way!

What’s in a name?

So today I changed the name of my blog. It has been “Grace and Space” since I began it…see my “About” page for the story behind that name.

But today, in preparation to migrate the blog to the WordPress.org platform in a few months, I changed the name so it would align with my domain name. At the time I chose the domain name, graceandlife.com, graceandspace.com was already taken. So graceandlife was my substitute, and it has been fine. But it seemed right to have the blog name finally match the domain name. So a few quick clicks, and presto! All done!

I had a conference call with the company that’s going to do the custom design work for me, and it was fun to talk about what I want for the site, where it can go, and how I want to tie other digital efforts to it. initial consultation is free. Next I’ll receive an outline of the things we discussed, my wish list for the site, and line item pricing so I can decide what I include. We acknowledged there may be some elements that make sense down the road, but aren’t necessary in the near term.

I’m working on a couple of Etsy sites, working on finishing my meditation book, have another couple outlined, and hope to connect all the dots in the spring. Aaahhh…..well, there’s still a lot of work to do yet, but I think the blue print is in place.

And this week I worked out an arrangement to continue working in Alaska a couple of weeks each month to keep my “regular” income flowing. I’ll be transitioning to the Seattle area so it will be an easy bounce back and forth each month.

There’s a lot of big picture uncertainty yet. I wish I could say I see how all the pieces will work together. But some things take time to unfold, and to develop as they should.

I’ve learned to take my own advice, and as I’ve said here more than once, “let the story write itself.”

So that’s what I’m doing. I’m filling in the details as I can, but for the pieces that are still defining themselves…well, that will happen in time. And when it’s right, it will be right.

Finally, thanks to the magic of online shopping I’m done with gifting, and shipping.

Decembers are never predictable. I find that often they’re crazy, hectic, busy beyond belief. This year with so much in my life upside down, this one seems surreal. Not the most wonderful holiday season I’ve had, but some things are good. There is always, always something to be grateful for.

This year, I’m so grateful for family and friends that keep me rooted and sane.

I’m grateful to see some of the digital work I’ve babied along finally coming together. Maybe a few more months and I’ll have an amazing bundle of digital offerings to celebrate.

I’m grateful for all that I’ve learned this year, about myself and those near and dear to me. The past few months have been a journey, and a hard one. But any road worth traveling is going to have some unexpected twists and turns, and this one is no exception. I’m still waiting to see where it will eventually lead me, but I’m grateful for the good that has come of it.

I read a lot of posts about people trying to slow down, to cut back on the craziness, and to focus on what is important in this season. I’m trying to do that as well, and above all, to look around at all that has blessed my life this year. As you take stock of your life, I hope you will find yourself smiling, recognizing…there is good all around, even in the midst of the hard times. Celebrate the joys, and the hard times will take care of themselves. At least that’s what I like to think.

So…on to the next task, the next thing on my list. But first…a few Christmas carols, a fresh candle, some hot cider…aaaahhh…December peace, December quiet. Snow falling, looking forward to seeing family, looking forward to Christmas lights and magic. Life is not perfect. But life is good.

Hard days

It’s December 4th and I’ve not been able to raise any Christmas spirit to welcome the month. Too much disruption of life, too many unanswered questions fill my thoughts.

These are hard days.

I’ve had some of these in the past, but mostly I’ve lived a life of joy and simplicity, and I’ve been grateful for what I’ve had.

But I’m learning…still, or again, I’m never sure which it is…I’m learning that hard days have a way of making life worthwhile when you let them do their work.

The hard days make you stop, help you know what is important and what is irrelevant.

I just want to go shopping for presents under the tree, stop for a coffee and enjoy the Christmas lights, sing the old favorites, and snap photos of everyone. I want that, but that isn’t the rhythm for this year.

This is a year of digging deep. I ask myself every morning: what good thing will happen today? What’s already happened that I didn’t notice because I was too busy feeling anxious?

Wouldn’t it be nice if the anxieties of life took the month off, and just let us have the holidays in peace?

But there’s something important happening, even when it doesn’t feel fun, doesn’t feel right.

I am growing, and changing, not because I’m focused on myself, but because the time is right, the student is ready, and the teacher has appeared. The teacher is experience, and the knowledge that comes from hard days.

Something tells me I needed to get to this place…a place without the noise of decorating a house or getting caught up in the usual round of holiday traditions…I needed to stand without my props around me. I need to face my challenges, and without the distractions, it’s easier to do that.

Meditation teaches me to be still, to find balance, to accept. Experience teaches me that life will sort itself, right itself, and that there will be richness I can’t begin to imagine that will come from my uncertainty.

Uncertainty is where the answers of tomorrow are forged. When you’re in the in between, the options are all before you. You can’t see the way things will work out, but you know they will.

Like an adventurer, I try to tell myself…I’m like an adventurer, wondering what amazing thing is around the corner.

I’m learning that uncertainty can be a fuel to help me look for possibilities. If I knew the answers, I wouldn’t be searching. And if I didn’t search, I would accept life just as it’s been…no opportunity for the new, the exciting, the beautiful that will come out of the questions.

If this seems like a philosophy to comfort myself…it is that. But I’ve seen it work in the past, so I know that it will work in the future.

This is a time to trust: life will work itself out. I have a role to play in that, but for now, my role is to be open, to be a student of the process, to be expectant, and to keep faith.

Aahh, I feel better already. I feed myself the words of hope, the words of expectation, and those little seeds flower as soon as they touch.

Yes, it will be a quiet season this year…family and a few traditions. But this is not a year for all my usual festivities. It will be a season of quiet, and a season of gracious expectation. And that is a good place to find myself.

Traveling joys

So, Christmas, 7:00 pm, and we’re sitting in the Seattle airport waiting to fly south for part two of family holiday visits. We’re not alone…it’s actually busier than I thought it would be. Some shops and restaurants are closed, but there are several options open for those who (still!) need to shop or eat.

In the spirit of Christmas travel, I’m sharing this little gift from YouTube. Saw this a couple of weeks ago and thought it was a completely charming idea. Even if it’s just a publicity ploy, WestJet did a great job of sharing some Christmas joy and pulled off an amazing surprise. I don’t think I’ll have this to look forward to when I pick up my luggage…but maybe if was flying WestJet?!

Enjoy!