Have Wedding Invitation, Will Travel

Proposal on a signpost
Hooray for happily ever after!
Wedding with balloons
Photo by Alvaro CvG

Everyone, it is often claimed, loves a wedding. What’s not to love?! Marriage celebrations are the culmination of a real-life fairy tale. For a brief, few shining hours, a whole community of randomly gathered folks fervently believe in “happily ever after.”

It is, my contention, therefore, that as wedding plans sweep the country in a veritable flood in the coming months, they will lift high the spirits of not only hundreds of brides and grooms, but of thousands of excited invitees. I, alas, have not received any wedding invitations for the coming season, but listening to the plans of others evokes delightful memories of my own. Sharing the blessed moment when a young couple pledges to love one another “until death do us part,” has taken me to about every state in the U.S.A. The farthest and most adventurous wedding journey my family and I ever took, however, led us to a small town in southern Poland.

one girl’s american adventure

The bride, a former nanny for our grandson Bryce, honored us with this invitation. Mariola had come to New England, as a young college student, to strengthen her English language skills. She supported herself by helping our daughter Betsy care for two-year old Bryce. My husband Jay and I visited Boston frequently in those days so that our grandson would know us as he grew up. That year we also came to know and love Mariola.

Bridal bouquetTwice Mariola brought Bryce to Chicago to visit us. On one of those occasions, she accompanied us to a friend’s wedding. On the way to the wedding, she insisted that we stop to buy flowers for the bride. She was quite flabbergasted to find out that guests did not shower American brides with flowers. Nevertheless, we stopped at a florist and as we greeted the happy couple following the ceremony, Mariola thrust a huge bouquet of golden roses into the bride’s arms. That young woman opened her eyes in wide surprise, but graciously smiled and gave a tentative thank you.

Bryce and Mariola, 2003
Bryce and Mariola, NYE 2003

Another time Mariola joined us when we vacationed with Bryce over the New Year’s holiday in Florida. In a very poignant moment, she telephoned her boyfriend back in Poland as we stood on a Florida rooftop.  The sun was just slipping into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, but over the phone we could hear midnight fireworks in Poland. Now five years later, Betsy, an eight-year-old Bryce, Jay, and I were traveling to her home country to witness her marriage to the young man who had been at the other end of the telephone line.

as long as we’re going, why not?

Our daughter Betsy was born a party girl. (She is the one that was delivered at six PM on a Saturday night by a doctor in a tuxedo.) She decided to turn our trip to Mariola’s wedding into an adventure on a grand scale. We were to begin with a cruise on the Mediterranean.

Monkey on Gilbraltar Island
Photo by Lucas Cleutjens

The cruise added a host of enchanting destinations to our journey. We found every stop even more amusing because Bryce found unique ways to enjoy the famous sights. He mimicked a street performer in Barcelona. In Morocco, he played hide and seek in an ancient mosque with a crowd of local boys. On Gilbralter, a monkey stole his ice-cream cone. He also managed to charm many of the ship’s personnel, some of whom remembered him from a cruise we had taken three years before. (Yes, that’s another story I’ll have to share.)

a long dark ride into unknown territory

Our most risky venture was to come, however, after our plane landed in Warsaw. The late September sun was just setting as we picked up our rental car. We went through the usual anxious moments while Jay figured out the workings of the unfamiliar vehicle. Betsy rode in the front passenger seat with the GPS device she had acquired back home. Its program gave directions to the Polish roadways in English. As enlightened as this sounds, the results were not always what one would hope for and the Polish roadway system seemed (to us, at least) convoluted at best. I became incredibly grateful that at least we were dealing with the Roman alphabet in our attempts to discern street names.

Australian Shepherd
Photo by Yas Duchesene

Upfront you could cut the tension with a knife as father and daughter struggled to remain civil through one missed turn after another. In the back my eight-year-old grandson squirmed and twisted as he tried to find a way to get comfortable. It was a lost cause. Listening to me read would catch his attention and calm his restlessness, but it was too dark in the car to see the words on the page. Instead, I made stories up. For five hours, I spun one “Super-Bryce” story after another. Bryce’s dog Ranger, his beloved Australian Shepherd, played a key role in every tale. Each yarn featured one of the locales, which we had visited on our cruise. I do so wish I had been able to record the stories. They were crazy. Still, they would be fun to hear again.

we made it!

Periodically, Betsy would reach Mariola on her cell to assure her that although the trip from Warsaw was taking much longer than it should, we were coming. Finally, after many miles along a gravel road, a sign loomed up. Dukla it read. Mariola in a bathrobe with her hair in rollers stood beside the sign. Fog swirled around her legs. I felt like a character from Brigadoon had come to greet us. She was so relieved to see us she was in tears. We were too exhausted even for that.

Fortunately, comfortable beds awaited us at a quaint inn. We were asleep almost before we could undress because the festivities started at nine in the morning. It was already past midnight.  We were grateful for the sleep we managed to get. A Polish wedding, we found out, is a twenty-four-hour affair.

a beautiful beginning
Church wedding
Photo by Jeremy Wong

Bright and early, we joined Mariola, her finance, her family, and her godparents for breakfast at their family home. From there, the family solemnly processed through the village streets to a small but ornately decorated Catholic church. We sat, stood, and kneeled for two hours during the long religious rite the accompanied the exchange of the wedding vow. It was beautiful, but because it was in Polish it felt even longer than it was.

A marthon party
Drummer
Photo by Music HG

We weren’t the only ones getting antsy at the church. When I entered the reception hall, the guests appeared to me like a large group of oversized children just let out of school. Voices echoes loudly as people fought to be heard over the thundering of a brass band. Glasses clinked in toast after toast to the new couple. Dozens of people danced foot-stomping folk dances and laughed loudly as they gamboled.

 

 

fun for the whole family
Dancing at wedding
Photo by Mitchell Orr

And the children! All the village families had been invited and while it wasn’t a large village, every family had lots of kids. They ran and weaved among the dancers and around the long tables where guests sat enjoying the mounds of food on their plates. The hall sometimes served as an auditorium.

At one end was raised, curtained stage. At least fifty boys between the ages of six and eleven had a game going. They would run up the steps on the side of the stage, slip behind the curtain, burst from between the drapes, and launch themselves off the platform. Picking themselves up, they ran off and repeated the cycle. Bryce caught on to that right away and raced off to join them. When they finally tire of that game, he joined them for the rest of the evening. The fact that they spoke no English and he didn’t know Polish was no barrier at all.

one guest, one bottle
Bottles of Vodka on a table
Photo by Jacalyn Beales

Mariola made certain that her American guests did not suffer from a language barrier. She was now studying to become an English teacher. So, she seated us at a table with her university colleagues, all of whom spoke excellent English. That made it extremely comfortable for us and the girls were excited to learn about the U.S. Most of them were married. None of the husbands spoke English, but they chatted among themselves. Then as the evening wore on, we all drank deeper into the bottle of Vodka provided for each guest. It began to feel as though we did speak the same language.

feast without finish
Chafing dishes on buffet
Photo by Jonathan Borba

There was no official beginning and ending to the buffet. The food just kept coming. We filled our plates and ate our fill. Then we chatted, danced, and watched the children for a couple of hours. More food arrived. We helped ourselves to that and the band played on.

Mariola and her husband spend plenty of time with each guest and spent much of the evening in the center of the dance floor. By midnight we had been there for ten hours, and the crowd was not all diminished. If anything, more people who had had to come from farther away showed up. Around two in the morning, the nature of the food changed. Breakfast was served. Voices quieted. Some guests left. Children were taken home to bed.

goodnight, sleep very tight

That was our signal. Bryce had been asleep under the table for several hours by that time. Jay slung him over his shoulders. We hugged the bride and groom. As the sun rose over the Catra Mountains, we pulled the shades in our room and fell asleep.  It had certainly been a wedding to remember!

Does one wedding you attended stand out for you?  I’d love it if you write a bit about that in the comments.

Sunrise over mountains
Photo by Francis Gunn

 

The Future Comes Soon Enough

Child watching fireworks
ordinary wonder

This year we celebrated the Fourth of July in very traditional ways. Because this is 2021, and we are just beginning to transition out of the pandemic mode,  the commemoration felt extraordinary. Freed at last from months of isolation, we rejoiced to be able to gather with friends and with strangers in merrymaking and festivities. It was a true Independence Day.  Like celebrations often do, it brought to mind other times when we commemorated this particular holiday differently than usual.

Last July, this blog featured one of those occasions, the year Jay and I spend the Fourth of July in the Ukraine. This year my mind spins back to July 4, 1976. That year we had chosen to spend our holiday on Mount Desert Island, the largest island off the coast of Maine.

Maine village by ocean
Photo by Carl Newton
up north & down east

A one-week layover in a small cottage along the island’s southwestern coast, near Tremont, had been our first visit to Mount Desert. My husband, our three-year old daughter Kristy, our eighteen-month-old daughter Carrie, my sixteen-year-old sister Beth, and I had already journeyed north from our home in Chicago to Montreal and Quebec City. We had then headed south toward New England. After a week on the road, we took a break and met up with friends from Chicago, the Forsythe family They knew about the island because the mom, Mary Florence, had a brother who lived near there.

Maine lighthouse
Photo by Daniel Vargas

Being on Mount Desert swept us into an entirely other culture. Both Maine and Illinois were part of the USA, but there the similarity ended.  It didn’t even sound to us like the folks spoke the same language. The little fishing villages of Tremont formed the “quiet” side of the island.  For us that was quiet, indeed, since even “busy” Bar Harbor was a far cry from the noise and hustle of Chicago. The entire island is only 54 square miles (Chicago covers 234 square miles) yet every mile of it offered a fascinating new discovery.

nonstop views and vistas

Most breathtaking is Somes Sound, a fjord-like body of water that runs five miles inland and divided the east and west sides of the island. When we stood at the inlet and stared up at the soaring cliff, towering over the water like sentinel giants, even the little children were awed into silence.

Jordan Pond
Photo by Alexa

At the other end of the pleasure spectrum was Jordan Pond. The “pond” is a glacier-formed tarn with exceptionally clear water, but swimming isn’t allowed there.  And although we could have rented a canoe, that didn’t sound like a safe decision with two such young children in tow.  What we did learn to love was tea on the lawn of the Jordon Pond House. We could almost feel we had been transported to England, but the delicacy to which we became instantly addicted were popover so light they melted in your mouth.

true land’s end

Of all the places on the island, the one that intrigued me the most was the summit of Cadillac Mountain because, while there are twenty mountains on the island, this one at 1,530 feet (466 meters), is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard. That makes it the first place in the United States to view the sunrise.

To celebrate this phenomenon, every year on July 4, many of the citizens of Mount Desert Island as well as hundreds of visitors make it a point to be on the summit at the crack of dawn on Independence Day.  Our visit was a long after this momentous event, but with the wind blowing so fiercely that I held my daughters very tightly as I took in the great expanse before me, I vowed to return for July 4, 1976, the 200th year anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

return to eden
Mt. Desert Island coast
Photo by Alexandra Fisher

Our return trip turned out to be the first vacation that Jay and I took alone since our first child had been born. With great excitement I planned the romantic getaway to one of the most beautiful places I had ever visited.  This time instead of ram-shackle cottage among the sea grasses, a lovely old inn, high above Somes Sound would be our home for the week. I had planned the trip with great exhilaration. Yet, when it came time to actually hug and kiss our children goodbye, I almost couldn’t get into the taxi that would take us to the airport.  We were leaving them with two trusted, known caretakers, but, at the last minute, it felt very scary to walk away from them.

a difference in perspective

My anxiety was not much allayed when after checking into our room at the venerable Asticou Inn, we went down to enjoy dinner in the dining room. Dinner was included in the American Plan price of the hotel. The maître stepped up as we entered. “I’m sorry, sir,” he said, “but a suit jacket and tie are required for the evening meal.”

“But I am formally dressed,” asserted my husband. He wore a “leisure suit,” a new evening apparel for men that had become all the rage that year.

“Your outfit does not meet our dining standards,” the host insisted.  And we were not allowed to dine there.

Grey Rock InnWe had to find another place to eat that evening.  We checked out the following morning. Gypsies that we were, we were very fortunate to find an opening at the charming Grey Rock Inn, a much less formally run Bed and Breakfast quite close to Somes Sound. After enjoying a lovely cup of tea with the inn’s proprietress, I finally began to de-stress. It began to look like our quest for a romantic getaway but work out after all.

fogged in, but not bogged down

On our first trip to Maine, the skies were bright and clear. The sunshine was brilliant. That didn’t happen this time. But fog and rain didn’t stop our fun. We took several long hikes. On the one day the fog lifted, we went sailing on the Sound. Finally, the focus of our trip came up.

Folk dancers
Photo by Ardian Lumi

The next day would be July 4.  We took a long afternoon nap, ate dinner and headed up the dark mountain where the festivities started at midnight.  The fog became increasingly dense, but we found a parking spot and good seat. We watched the islanders perform folk dances around the bonfire. A bevy of local bands belted out enjoyable patriotic tunes.

Scottish bagpiper
Photo by Lucrezia Carnelos

Throughout the night the fog hung low over our heads.  By quarter to four in the morning, it began to lighten up.  We became hopeful that the fog would clear and the sun would burst across the horizon in glorious color. For seventy-five long minutes, the crowds peered into the gloom.  Every once in awhile someone would claim to have seen a light, but it was never confirmed.  Finally, a stalwart guy, dressed in full Scottish regalia, came to the microphone.  It’s five a.m., folks,” he announced, “the sun has risen.” He began to play the bagpipes on his shoulder.

the sun does not rise

We looked at one another in disbelief.  Nothing had changed.  It wasn’t even a little bit lighter than it had been at four a.m.

Guns and balls
Photo by Ben Iwara

“My Lord,” I said to Jay. “We came over a thousand miles to see the sun rise on the third century of the American Experience – and it never rose.  This does not bode well for the next one hundred years.”

I now look back at the almost half century that has come and gone since we stood on that mountain. I feel a bit like my words were tainted with prophecy.

Protest signs
Photo by Jason Leung

“The vast possibilities of our great future will become realities only if we make ourselves responsible for that future.”Gifford Pinchot

Too Old to Sing Rock ‘n Roll?

Woman hiking in wilderness
“Old age is not for wimps”

Man on exercise bikeThe woman in the photo was slender with clearly defined muscles rippling along her arms, torso and legs. Her eyes squinted fiercely, staring directly at the camera, in a face lined with wrinkles. Long grey hair pulled haphazardly into a bun at the nape of her wiry neck escaped in strands caught in the sweat pouring off her furrowed brow. Scrawled across the bottom of the poster, bold letters read, “Old Age Is Not for Wimps.”

Every time I exited my gym locker room, dragging my thirty-something self toward the weight machines, I paused mesmerized by that woman.  I was determined to be her, to be fit and ready for anything in my elder years.

“The more sand that has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it.” 
― 
Jean-Paul Sartre

Then and Now

I’m so glad she’s not here to judge me now. I bear no resemblance to my ideal. There have been times over the last thirty years when I approached my goal. There was that year I went to the gym three times a week.  And a different year when I woke in the dark to run three miles every weekday morning.  For almost five years I met a friend at 6 a.m. to walk two miles almost every morning. When my younger daughter was getting married, I hired a personal trainer and joined Weight Watchers for eight months.  I love those mother-of-the bride pictures!

More recently, I spent a spring and summer, working out three days a week, and building up my walking until I could walk 20 miles in a day. By October, I trekked 30 miles in one day as a participant in CureSearch’s Ultimate Hike program, a cause that has raised over 5 million dollars in the battle against childhood cancer.

Drinking by the fireplace
Photo by Sergio Solo

And it’s ageism, far more than the passage of time, that makes growing older harder for all of us.” 
― 
Ashton Applewhite, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism

But after the hike, just as before, I slipped into my old couch potato ways.

There Comes a Time

Now, I’m beginning to pay the price. I don’t stroll as quickly as I once did. I’m out of breath if I climb more than one flight of stairs. I fall more easily. And all this scares me.  Am I becoming an elder wimp?

The time when my motivation for losing weight and getting in shape was mostly to appear more attractive has come and gone. It’s become more a matter of life and death.  Not death in the absolute sense, but the death of the freedom to be myself, to be a person who choses what she can and cannot participate in.

I’m not alone in recognizing the now or never of this proposition. The authors of “Aging with Freedom,” a fantastic website that explores multiple aspects of transitioning into the “golden years,” studied the supposed connection between early retirement and early death.  The literature clearly indicated that it’s what you do in retirement, not when you retire that makes the difference.

If you use early-retirement to exercise more and replace or improve work with other social connections and purpose, early-retirement is good for you. It can dramatically improve both longevity and quality-of-life. https://agingwithfreedom.com/2018/03/27/early-retirement-health-odds-good-or-bad/

Women doing yogaThere go my hopes that exercise doesn’t matter anymore!

I’m looking for motivators and “tricks” and best practices to pull myself away from this computer and out onto the sidewalk or into the gym.  If you know of any, please take a minute to share them in the contact box.

I promise to let you know if I try your ideas and how they work out.

Growing old has been the greatest surprise of my life. Billy Graham

 

 

Like a Rainbow

Rainbow over Waverly

Over the last several post, I’ve been sharing memories with my readers.  Some have been stories from my childhood. Others are tales shared with me about my parents’ or my grandparents’ lives.

Today, I return to my earliest post. This one was published over two years ago. It asks readers to join me, to share their stories and to share photographs that illustrate those stories.  It’s a BIG ASK. But, boldly, I do it again.

somewhere over the rainbow

Yellow brickroad to OzLike a rainbow, families begin and end in misty places we never actually see.  Some of its colors we perceive quite clearly. Others are not so easily defined. But together all these hues represent who we are and what we can be.

Every known human society has had distinctive ways of constructing family relationships.  All have recognized this web of intimate inter-connection as essential to human survival.

Our own contemporary Western culture is no different.  The turmoil of immigration and mobility has severed our links to our ancestors. Feeling uprooted, yearning for connection, we turn to genealogists to find out who our great-grandparents were and where they came from.

That only gets us names and dates.  It doesn’t connect people to one another.  Even if I unearth some photos to go with the names,  I mostly find myself staring at …..strangers.

Back to the Future

Old photosI cannot undo the past. But there’s another impossibility I may be able to pull off. I can travel “Back to the Future.”  Before you start calling in the guys with the straight jackets, let me assure you that I am not planning on building a Time Machine.

Rather through memory and imagination, I will visit the past as I knew it and bring back stories of those times and those people, preserving them for today’s children and also for the children at the other end of the rainbow.

I invite you to companion me on my quest.  Share your stories of our families’ past adventures and everyday events. Send me photos that illustrate those tales. Don’t limit yourself to the past. Today will soon be yesterday. So let’s hear what’s happening in the family right now, especially the funny stories that will tickle the ribs of future grandchildren and great-nieces and nephews as well.

sundays at nana’s house

Jay having dinner with Terrence's familyMany of us remember a time when almost every Sunday, the extended family gathered at a grandmother’s or great-aunt’s home for Sunday dinner.  It takes events of great joy or deep sadness to bring us all together today.  This blog will be a virtual “Dinner at Nana’s House,” a place and time to celebrate that in some way everyone here is family.

I am reaching out to everyone I have been fortunate enough to call “family.” Here we’ll ask real questions, not fill in some fantasy quiz. We ask because we truly want to know the answers.

Asking is not probing.  There will still be secrets.  Every family has them. But we will so much more about each other than we do now. Day by day we’ll be more and more connected. Knowing will enable caring. Caring will engender a tradition of support. This will be our legacy.

abundance of connection
At my father's Wisconsin cabin
John DeJager’s Lake Cabin

My life’s journey began in the midst of abundant family. On the day I was born my four grandparents lived nearby, my two uncles were fighting in World War II, one in Europe and one in the Pacific. As the first child of two oldest children, I did not, as yet, have any aunts, siblings, or cousins.  Those would come later. I was, however, blessed with an abundance of great-aunts and  great-uncles, a slew of second and third cousins, and best of all, two lovely great-grandmothers.  It is my great hope that all these wonderful folks will star somewhere in the dramas to appear on these pages.

No more photos without names. No more names without faces. Future children of the clans will inherit the rich narrative of their origins.  knowing where they come from will give them true direction as to where they can go.

“Families are like branches on a tree, we grow in different directions yet our roots remain as one.” https://www.treasurequotes.com/quotes/families-are-like-branches-on-a-tree-we-grow

Might Southern Oak
Photo by Andrew Shelley

Let the Clan Gathering Begin.

 

The Light Returns and We Are Glad

Northern Lights in Norway
My Favorite Day of the Year
Christmas tree in Scandinavia
Photo by Samuel Bryngelsson

Today is Winter Solstice. The winter solstice is the moment in the year when Earth is tilted as far away from the sun as it will be all year. For the northern half of the planet, the winter solstice results in the shortest day of the year, meaning it has the longest period of darkness.

For as long as I can remember, I have loved this day, loved the whole idea that the light that slowly seeped away from us over the last six months is about to return.  The darkness cannot overtake us. I rejoice to know that I, along with millions of other earthly creatures, am tilting back toward the sun. At the same time, I delight in the grand array of artificial light my own species threads throughout the habitats of humanity. These cheerful beacons do not deny the darkness. Rather they proclaim that we recognize the allure of sparking light against velvet darkness. This magic combination lifts spirits and call us to make merry. Every couple must, I claimed at the beginning of this series of posts, grasp every possible reason to celebrate that comes their way.  This time of year is one of the best.

Introducing Jul
Norwegian town in winter
Photo by Vidar Nordi Mathisen

I have an odd but intent affinity for the season. My name, Jule, is an Anglicized version of the Norwegian word for Christmas, “Jul.” In Nordic tradition “Jul” stretches out for weeks. In pre-Christian times, it began around what would be for us today, mid-December and lasted until mid-January.  The time period was a month called “Ylir.” It was associated with the god, Odin. One of his many names is Jólnir which comes from the word Jól. In those ancient days, Odin traveled around Midearth more than usual visiting the locals. The children will fill socks with hay for his horse Sleipnir, and Odin might give them a small gift in return.

julenisse
Photo by j pellegen

Even today Santa Claus is not the most common Christmas icon in Norway. That honour goes to julenisse. A creation from Scandinavian folklore, a nisse (tomte in Sweden) is a short creature with a long white beard and a red hat. Julenisse means the gift-bearing nisse at Christmas time.

The real yule log

You may be more familiar with another Anglicized version of “Jul,” which is Yule. This pronunciation most likely came about because the letter “J” in Norwegian and Swedish sounds more like the English “Y” than the English “J.”  This means that while all my life the sound of my name has been identical to the word, “Jewel,” it would be more properly pronounced “Yoo-laa.” But I’ll save the whole story of how I came to be named one name and called another for another day.

The total abandonment to merriment that is the focus of the “Jul” entrances

Extra large burning log
Photo by elijah Hiett

me. There are so very many ways these people of the far north have of pushing back against the dark and the cold it can be breath taking just to read about them. We’ve all heard of the Yule Log.  For many of us, it’s a kind log-shaped cake, one of many mouth-watering sweets in which we indulge at this time of year.

The cake, however, takes its name from a very special Norse ritual. Their tradition calls for a whole tree (not just a log!) to be brought into the home to burn for the entire 12 days of Christmas. I feel all soft and fuzzy inside writing about that single tree giving Yule-Log Cakeits whole life to bring light and warmth to a family in the midst of the frigid darkness. Humans could do well to emulate the tree. Just in case you don’t have a whole tree to burn, here’s a recipe for the cake.

now that’s a party!

Those hearty Nordic folk are not, however, spending their time curled up on cozy sofas staring into the fire. No way.  They are off celebrating at multiple julebord. I have to admit – it’s super cool to share a name with such a spectacular tradition. These communal gatherings serve up trays ladened with traditional food. The most common popular dish Christmas Eve dish is ribbe,

Pork belly roast
Photo by Sebastian Coman

or seasoned pork belly. It’s usually served with sauerkraut and redcurrant sauce. Christmas sausages, cranberry sauce, and fried apple slices with honey are other common accompaniments. Here’s one that might not sound wonderful to you, but 70% of Norwegians feast on pinnekjøtt sometime over the  season. Pinnekjøtt, which translates literally into English as ‘stick meat.’ is dried and salted sheep ribs. https://www.lifeinnorway.net/christmas-food/

Clinking beer glasses
Photo by Yutacar

Usually guests and hosts consume large amounts of alcohol and then head out to a late-night party. With true festive fervor, every company, school, sports club and social group hosts their own julebord. Over the season, one most Norwegians attend two or more of these events. So, it’s no wonder that after the somewhat quieter family celebration of Julaften (Christmas Eve), the day when Norwegians exchange gifts, Norwegians welcome romjul.

time in between times

Romjul is their name for the period between Christmas and New Year’s. It roughly translates to mean a time when no one knows what to do. I can totally relate to that. If any of you have ever been at work, as I have in the past, during this particular week, you probably know what the Scandinavians mean.  Doldrums set in at work.  By Christmas, we’ve wrapped up most big project.  There’s not enough time to launch a new venture. Everyone’s still a little hung over from all that Christmas cheer while gearing up to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

And that’s just at work. At home the Christmas bubble deflates as the letdown of no more gifts sets in for the kids and diet regret takes over the adults. No one wants to watch their favorite Christmas movies any more. Going out to play is a major process of gearing up and doesn’t last for long. Yes, I have to go along with the Norwegians.  That week deserves its own name and romjul sounds just right.

year end for julewardwrites

When it comes to this blog, I think it’s only fair to let you know, I’ll be observing romjul and giving you a break from reading it for a week.  See you in 2021. Until then – –

Gingerbread house cake
Photo by Bruna Branco

God Jul! & Godt nytt år

What’s your favorite Holiday tradition?  I’d love to hear!

 

Home Alone

Couple alone in a dark room
a tree for two
Couple building snowman
Photo by Toa Heftiba

Home Alone is the theme of Christmas, 2020. Most of us face this wise choice face with deep sadness. We’re also pretty angry although we may not know where to direct our anger. For some, like my husband Jay and I, being “alone” for Christmas means not absolute solitude, but attempting to celebrate the holiday as a couple without any gathering of family. We haven’t had to do this since our honeymoon. At that time, being alone was delicious, a retreat from world of family and friends, from school and work, a quiet time to just let it sink in that we were married.

yearning for much more
Couple and their tree
Photo by S&B Vonlan

Trying to recapture that same sense of delightful togetherness is much harder this year because after that first Christmas, we always celebrated with large groups of extended family members. Once we became parents, our children were the focus of every year’s celebration. This tradition continued even after they grew up. All four children came home for Christmas every year until our grandchildren were born. After that we took turns gathering at our children’s homes for Christmas. All of us even traveled to Argentina in 2006 when our third daughter and her family lived in South America for the year.

seeking solace and wisdom
Couple holding hands
Photo by Nani Chavez

We have been fortunate. We know that. Still, we are filled with angst and pain as we confront the Christmas without the family. We try to cheer each other up, but haven’t been having a lot of success. So, when the Gottman Institute Blog’s post, “How to Support Your Partner When You’re Hurting Too,” by Donald Cole, landed in my email box it felt like a godsend.

As I read Dr. Cole’s advice, I could see ways Jay and I could avail ourselves of his wisdom to get through this hard time. I could see there parallels to my own themes of intentional marriage.

intentional listening magic

He begins with “Set aside time to listen to each other.” Jay and I are pretty religious about this already.  As busy as we might get with separate projects during the day, we put them aside at six o’clock to sit and have a drink together. During the challenge of this season, this may be a time to use that quiet hour to remember past holidays and bring up happy memories, or even just share how hard it’s going to be this year.

no one is a mind reader
Couple in deep conversation
Photo by Joanna Nix

Ask for what you need,” Dr. Cole cautions. I feel he’s looking right at me. Jay has always depended on me to be the “gift-giver” of the family, and often depends on our adult children to purchase the gifts for Christmas for me. If we’re going to be alone this year, clearly it’s up to me to specify what gift I’d like and help him know where to purchase it – the hard part will be to do this graciously.

Being just the two of us for several different celebrations is bound to up the stress level on both of us. So, I can see that it will be important for us to set aside a regular time for tough conversations – something we both might be more inclined to avoid because “after all it’s the holidays.”

acknowledge stress and tension

Practice stress reducing conversation,” he continues. This is listening and sharing, not about relationship difficulties, but about those things outside the partnership that are causing stress. The difference struck me as very important. The response, Dr. Cole suggests, “What’s the worst part of this for you?” really resonated for me.

But at times when you are both hurting, it’s also important, he insists to “repair the damage” inflicted on the relationship. All couples hurt each other. If we realize that, we can be courageous enough to tell our partner when they hurt us and big enough to hear this and try to change.

most of the time – make merry
Blazing fire in fireplace
Photo by Hayden Scott

Two of Dr. Cole’s maxims go together for me, “Engage in non-demand affection,” and “Make time for good things between you.” Jay and I are ordinarily a pretty affectionate couple.  Yet, without the hugs and kisses of the children and grandchildren and the warmth that just radiates through the room when the whole family gathers in one place, we need to ramp up on the hugs, kisses and cuddles at home – and maybe roll back the rug, turn on some music and slow dance.

Just before Christmas our wedding anniversary pops up. On the occasion of our first anniversary, we were both still in school and had minimum wage jobs. Our financial obligations far outweighed our income, but we went ahead and splurged anyway. We went out to dinner at Fanny’s, an Italian restaurant.

Italian restaurant
Photo by Svend Nielsen

The check was $10 for two, which was as much as we usually spent on groceries in a week.  That anniversary set a precedent. Every anniversary since then we have gone out to fancier and fancier restaurants. For most of those years we coupled the dinner with tickets to the theater.

Faced with the quandary of how to make our anniversary a “good time” this year, we know we cannot go out to dinner.  But I feel the “good times” are greatly diminished if I have to cook. We will have to be very intentional about choosing a take-out or delivery that feels celebratory enough. We’re pondering as well what might be a great movie to watch? The best music to listen to? Of course, we’ll have a fire in the fireplace.

If you, kind readers, have any suggestions I am open to all ideas.

 

Seasonal Ambiguity

Snowy December Night
advent dilemma
Advent Wreath
Photo by Grant Whitty

In my heart of hearts, if I could wish away the season of Advent, I would.  I have never been able to “make it work.” Within my faith tradition, Christianity, Advent is one of the holiest seasons of the year. During the month before Christmas, our church calls us to fast and pray, to give alms and burn candles as we await the coming of the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. Although Jesus came into human history over 2,000 years ago, every year on the date, designated to celebrated his birth, Christians all over the world prepare to welcome him into their lives once again.

So, why would I vanquish such a sacred time? Because I live in a time and place where my culture overwhelms the spiritual meaning of the season with rampant worldly festivities, ones that lift me up and carry me through the dark, cold days of winter. Sadly, although most of this merrymaking has a tentative connection to the Nativity of Jesus, it has lost its solemn mode of quiet reflective waiting. And in truth, I don’t want to go back. As guilty as it makes me feel, I revel in our modern Christmas celebrations.

believe in santa claus

Toy department Marshall Field's

When I was a child, guilt about secular tradition never bothered me at all. It wasn’t until I became a mother myself, that the remorse set in and dogged my footsteps, taking little nibbles out of my joy, as I followed the traditions of my culture. Early in December, my husband Jay and I trekked through the snow-filled alleys of our Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago to the Fullerton “L” stop with all four children in tow. We rode the train to Randolph Avenue, getting off right in the basement of Marshall Field’s Department Store. We squeezed into a crowded elevator with other families and sped up to the sixth floor, a veritable children’s paradise, a square block of toys for sale.

The line to see Santa Claus usually stretched all the way back to the elevators themselves. My job, whether I cared to take it or not, was to hold a place in that slowly inching river of people. Jay had the equally challenging task of weaving with the children through the various display aisles as they concocted Christmas wish lists. Finally, it would be their turn to march up to “Santa” and sit on his (or one year her) lap and recite this list while a bored young photographer captured the less than memorable moment.

fine dining with kids!
Tree in Walnut Room
Photo by Claudio Schwarz

Next, we paraded up the escalator to the eighth floor so that we could admire the gigantic tree that stood in the center of the store’s premier restaurant, the Walnut Room, a carpeted, paneled space, reminiscent of the Victorian era.    The height of the tree always loomed far over our heads, and each year it had a different theme. By now almost exhausted and very hungry, we happily took our reserved place in the restaurant.  This experience tended to be a bit on the stressful side because fine dining and multiple children under the age of ten don’t make for a good mix.

Ringing the Salvation Army bellThe day’s rituals were not, however, quite complete.  After lunch, we joined the throng outside Field’s, sometimes in absolutely frigid weather, to circle around the store and admire that year’s Christmas windows, which most often depicted a favorite children’s story. Always, the children loved this part of the day best.  Before descending to the subway station, we performed the only authentically Advent action of the day, we each dropped several coins in the bucket of the Salvation Army bell ringer. When the children were older, we all volunteered bell ringers ourselves.

choosing the perfect tree

Christmas tree in a Victorian House

Most families have their specific ways of doing a Christmas tree. Jay had grown up with a flocked one.  To me that wasn’t quite authentic, but we weren’t die-hard enough to drive out to the country to cut down our own tree.  Rather we had our favorite close by our house, where all six of us milled around the lot, each choosing a different tree and then the negotiations began. Once we brought it home, of course, everyone agreed that we found the perfect tree.  Then the rest of us got out of the way while Jay with much under his breath cussing put up the lights.

There was one bad year. The kids had moved out of the house for college or residential living. I decided that we had decorated long enough with the ornaments that the children had made in preschool. I boxed these up and got rid of them. Then I proceeded to decorate the tree in shiny new ornaments. When the kids came home for Christmas, there was great wailing and gnashing of teeth. As far as they were concerned, I might as well have given away the family cat.

what does christmas truly mean?
Holy Family with Mary nursing and Joseph sleeping
Photo from Birmingham Museums Trust

If all this sounds to you like delightful, if exhausting celebration of annual traditions, your response is natural.  Why then did every step of the way drive virtual, yet painful, stones into my soul? There was always some part of me, that famous Catholic guilt, that chided me that I shouldn’t be giving into these materialistic rituals.  Why, I would ask myself, couldn’t I focus my children’s attention more explicitly on the religious meaning of the season.

Clip art nativity scene

We did attend Mass each Sunday, but that was no more than we did the rest of the year. I always put out an Advent Wreath, but we didn’t always remember to light the candles. Somehow writing dozens of Christmas cards seemed more important. On Christmas Eve, when the children were in grade school, they took part in the enactment of the birth of Jesus, usually as an angel or shepherd.  None of them ever quite made it to Mary or Joseph.  But our family, like many other families, gathered at the Christmas Eve afternoon Mass because Christmas morning would be completely given over to discovering what “Santa” had left under the tree – always more than there “should” have been.

let it go
Lit-up JOY
Photo by Tai Captures

Finally, however, as I matured and the children grew, I let go of my guilt and brought a sense of humor to the season. Humor is not only a necessary ingredient of any successful committed partnership, it is a great asset for all of family life. Sure this season gets a little out of control at times, a lot over the top, but at the same time, it can be so much fun! When I can take a more relaxed approach to this “happiest time of the year,” it has a better chance of fulfilling its promise.

How do you balance the sacred and the secular aspect of the winter holidays?

“Once again, we come to the Holiday Season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice.” – Dave Barry

October: Love Among the Pumpkins

Kristy in a pumpkin patch
turn to each other
Older couple embracing
Photo by lotte-meijer

Celebrating whatever we could whenever we could added reserves to our marriage’s emotional bank account, a concept offered by John Gottman in his relationship guide, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.  This principle works just like a monetary bank account. Every day couples have opportunities to turn toward each other in small and big ways that build up a reserve of trust and goodwill. Couples can draw on this through stressful and conflictual times. https://psychcentral.com/blog/7-research-based-principles-for-making-marriage-work/

maximize the “maxi-moments”

As much as such crucial feel-good mini-moments have contributed an overall sense of well-being to our marriage, Jay and I have also regularly relied on turning as many of them as we could into “maxi-moments.” In other words, we sparkle the glitter of celebration’s magic over life’s small achievements and imbue them with extra joy. We are now

martini splashing
Photo by Amy Shamblen

coming into the time of year that is a heyday for celebration. The pall that has been cast of 2020 causes some people to feel as though hoopla and revelry might be out of place, but the rest of us are proclaiming, “Not at all.  Never has there been a more crucial time than now to commemorate life small joys and blessings.

Through the past year I’ve taken my readers along with Jay and I through many adventures and good moments during our earlier married years – the time before we were parents. Once, we began welcoming children into our family, lots of things changed – even our love for each other. It became deeper and more meaningful as it blossomed into new life. The times and ways we celebrated also evolved.

getting ready for halloween

When our children were young, Halloween beckoned them from the end of every October, transforming the entire month into one of almost daily merrymaking. Often planning for costumes began even before October 1.

Fairy in woods
Photo by Anthony Tran

Almost daily, my children feasted on stories about dragons and princesses, fairies and witches, sprites and elves, magicians and wizards. For most of the year, those wondrous creatures were confined to the pages of fairy tale books.  On Halloween, they came alive.

My children planned their costumes with dedicated enthusiasm and amazing creativity. They didn’t simply “dress up” as some fantastical character.  At the core of their being they transformed into their roles. For that one night, they’d be actors on national stage. They took their parts in that performance very seriously.  Many educators have noted the academic, social and emotional benefits of “dressing-up.”

Child as dinosaur
Photo by Jeremy McKnight

https://blog.bellalunatoys.com/2016/10-benefits-of-dress-up-play-for-children.html But my children didn’t need grown-ups to tell them this. They could no more resist the pull of this alternate reality than they could resist the clanging of the ice-cream truck.

a month is a long, long time

But waiting for Halloween, even with all the costume preparation, can seem very long.  A month is a big percentage of a small child’s life. Thus, like many other families, we built other rituals into October, milestones on the way to Halloween. They didn’t equal the excitement of the big day, of course, but they enhance both family bonding and holiday exuberance. Among these traditions, a visit to the pumpkin patch was, perhaps, the most anticipated.

Pumpkins
Photo by Kathleen DeNapoli

Like the grape stomping featured in last week’s blog post (https://julewardwrites.com/committed-relationships/laugh-together-stay-together-side-effect-of-grape-stomping), a visit to the pumpkin patch offered the chance to flee the city for the day.  While we all loved the vibrancy and convenience of city life, a trip to our favorite country haven helped our children learn first hand about the source of our food through a learning process that felt to them like sheer fun. Instead of heading toward Michigan, the pumpkin search took us north out of the city to Wisconsin.

city family’s day on the farm

All Southern Wisconsin, many working farms opened their gates to city

Girl holding bunny
Photo by William Daigneault

slickers like us, giving our family a peek into rural life at its best – at harvest time. We didn’t always choose the same farm because we loved exploring new places, but the experiences often mirrored one another enough that we were never disappointed. We enjoyed picking apples, drinking cider, and, of course, selecting a pumpkin for each child to take home and carve. The kids usually demanded that a corn maze and a petting zoo be part of the experience.  They loved hold and petty fuzzy bunnies and feeding goats kernels of corn right from their hands.

Hayride
Photo by Indianapolis Chronicle

We usually ended our day with Jay accompanying the kids on a hayride. I never wanted to go because I remembered the hayride of my childhood on my cousin’s farm. Horses pulled those wagons. At the Wisconsin farms, giant, rumbling tractors pulled the load of high-spirited kids and parents.  They loved it. But it wasn’t for me.  Instead, I’d wander into the farm stand and buy cider, apple butter, and pies. They were expensive but so worth it.

carve the pumpkins, eat the seeds

It would be evening by the time we headed back to the city with a car full of tired children. The next day we’d carve the pumpkins so they’d be ready to put on the front porch for Halloween. I would painstakingly clean all the strings off the seeds so we could salt and roast them. My children would not ordinarily have eaten anything quite so gritty, but it was part of the ritual. So, they savored them.

emotion bank account: in good shape

October filled our family’s emotional bank account. We would drawn down on the reserves of joy and enthusiasm in times of challenge and stress, grateful that we made plenty of space in our lives for the renewable resource, celebration.

If you are thinking that this sounds like something your family is up to, there’s sure to be a welcoming farm somewhere near you wherever you are. https://www.travelchannel.com/interests/fall/photos/top-10-pumpkin-patches

Making cider
Photo by Rosalie Barley

” I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house.” — Nathaniel Hawthorne.

https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&q=Quotes+about+pumpkin+patches