The popourri that is December. I have not had the discipline to finish what I start. Here is what I have been scribbling . . .
Near on predictably, the December holidays have barely started and are already different from any other. The questions that echo in my head are from the Passover Seder. “Why is tonight different from all other nights?” introduces each of four questions. The questions and answers have always been ceremonial and tell a story about ancestors and why we must continue to remember and apply it to our lives. These days the questions and answers are so very present.
On all other nights we . . . but on this night . . .
During all other winter holiday months we . . . but during the winter holiday month during the pandemic . . .
I hang more lights. Indeed. So many years ago, we did not hang lights. There were not lights on our Christmas tree until Cheshire was a toddler. We did not put up Christmas until Chunukah was over (caveat: those overlapping years!). We were exceedingly tasteful. I usually say and think that it was Julia who changed that—Julia wanted to put up a tree as soon as possible, Julia wanted outdoor lights on our house to look like other homes in our neighborhood. But I did not resist.
These days, I do not hang outdoor lights because we are renting, but inside . . .
2:13 p.m. We lit all the holiday lights about an hour ago to brighten up an otherwise foggy, rain, gray day. Julia “changed” from pajama pants and a light tee shirt to pajama pants and a long sleeved “day” shirt. I’m pretty comfortable as well. We have very little scheduled to do today—a zoom Hanukkah party at 4 that I hope I don’t forget. Those random zoom meetings are easy to loose track of.
It has been a day of chores that are almost never on the front burner—changing burnt out light bulbs in ceiling lights, picking out Julia’s senior year book picture from the proofs, doing sewing repairs to a very large pile of Julia’s clothes and once again, trying to get my “out of warranty” printer to work with my new laptop. No reason it shouldn’t work but it doesn’t and there is no support from HP. I don’t print out much anymore—some email receipts that I file for use in a few years, the music that Julia’s cello teacher emails, the updates I need to file for insurances and holiday card addresses. I have been fiddling all week, corresponding back and forth with the HP community support online chat. There doesn’t seem to be any real support person to talk to in the US. Believe it or not, there is live support in Canada.
I’ll begin addressing cards by hand tonight.
More lights have been hung, the earliest tree ever graces the living room and I am watering it every day. Almost. Will it really last until Christmas. Some of my new lighting is equipped with timers. Extremely handy when so much needs to be plugged in or switched on. I have gained in respect for those who are into extreme holiday decorating and/or those who decorate every room in their house. I’m still not there, just edging closer. Being a victorian house with lots of wood trim everywhere, it is easy to go overboard on decoration.
Third night of Hanukkah—it has been a long time since I was vaguely embarrassed to light the candles and stumble through the prayer. I hold onto the idea that our mix of holidays like the multiple heritages in our family are all sacred and deserve to be honored.
My latkes this year were not inspiring, but it has been a few years since I made them. From what I recall, the last two years, Trader Joe’s did the cooking.
Yesterday, I was at Russo’s, a speciality grocery store, where I buy most of my fruit and veggies. They also have six kinds of prosciutto, fresh ravioli and extravagant cakes. Early on during the pandemic, Russo’s shut down for a few weeks—maybe 2, maybe 3. They announced they were doing a deep cleaning and rearranging aisles. The store never looked dirty and when they reopened the aisles didn’t look wider. My guess was that someone had tested positive or gotten sick, maybe someone who worked there. Since they opened up again, they are strict about the number of people in the store and everyone is given plastic gloves to wear. I know lots of folks were wearing gloves back in April and for the most part that has stopped but get close to the door of Russo’s and you are given plastic gloves. Those giant thin plastic gloves that are comically hard to open to slide on. Go to Russo’s and there is a always a small knot of people trying to open the gloves. Of course, we all have masks on so we can wet our fingers. I’ve taken to touching the mangos that have been by the door. The mangos are nearly imperceptibly damp, just enough to help open the gloves.
But I began writing about Russo’s because they have rows of Christmas trees. Three thick rows of several kinds of pines and walking down any row, I could smell the trees. Through my mask, I could smell the trees.
Later, during the day, I went out on an errand and I could smell latkes cooking! Again, through my mask. What will the world smell like unmasked?
Snow. Today, outside it looks like Wisconsin. Badger Facebook friends have been posting snow pictures for days. Weeks? The quiet is broken by the engines of snowblowers. Julia is home on a remote learning day—that is, the classes she usually attends online in school continue for everyone including her at home. Actual snow days may be lost forever. Almost for sure, they are lost for this school year.
Small cracks appear in her remote class time. The supplies for her Thursday art class are at school. If she was a regular remote learner, those supplies would be at home. She will do some sketching, not use the scratch board as per directions.
Snow day. A real snow day—well, to the extent that there are no classes today. However, it should be noted that the roads are clear and the reasoning for the “no classes” day is pretty murky. The scuttlebutt on Facebook is that the superintendent was pressured by parents. Quite grumpy, I say only to myself, “that would have never happened in Madison.”
I was sad yesterday. I can’t quite say why—something about the inevitable disappointment of holiday time and all those who I miss. This is not going to be like any other Christmas, it was not like any other Hanukkah or Solstice.
Last night, I zoomed into the solstice service at the Madison Unitarian Society. It was not like the service that we used to go to every year—no youth-led story of the Oak and Holly Kings, no calling to the directions all together, no lighting candles, one for each person attending in the mostly dark hall. The candles, so tiny each light, together in great bowls of sand at the front of the hall lit the space until the lights were turned back on. The very things I miss the most about that service are the very things that it could not be this year.
But I cried hearing the beloved voices that led the service.
Tonight, Julia and I zoom into our FUUSN service. Julia asked about Rev. Kelly from Madison and told me she misses her. Our present minister is very nice, but at this point we’ve known her longer via zoom than in person. I know our present church community more by zoom than in person. And lately, it has been hard for me to break into zoom conversations. I am not sure why.
Looking at the lit tree—in the house now for 10 days and doing well—decorated with all those carefully curated ornaments from so many years of buying one ornament each year. Oh, we were always on the budget. The angel on top—an extravagant purchase when we lived in Bloomington, Indiana.
I fill the house with lights. Can those lights also fill a lonely soul?
Julia noticed the tree is wilting. I’ve been thinking we would take it down right after Christmas but she wants it up until she goes back to school. Like always. I hear that in her wants often these day. She wants life like always even thought there is nothing like even last year.
We are heading up to New Hampshire later today for a Christmas with Cheshire and Justin. We have meals planned, I have gifts wrapped. I am in the midst of a bout of pinched nerve pain in my shoulder. It has been getting better with PT and exercises but last week’s snow landed me back into painful days, sleepless nights and meds. However, my ability to connect the pain with the snow is a great discovery. The pain didn’t begin until 2.5 days after the shoveling—my physical therapist explained why and I am very grateful for the discovery. Exercises need to retrain better posture. In a sense, the last two days in bed are almost worth the self knowledge.
I am back to the question of why this holiday season is different from all others. It is too quiet, too neat. We’ve used too much hand sanitizer and worn our masks too often. I’ve missed the smiles of strangers in the market and shopkeepers giving change. I am grateful for my post carrier who rings my door bell almost every day so I can let the cat back in for his late morning nap. These winter holidays have been quiet and a bit sad for all the years since David died, but this year there is no community of late night choir singing on this eve. No friendly hugs, no UU potluck. Gifts, as they are, have all come from stores and services that I have not visited. There is irony is my missing shopping—I’ve shopped online for years.
Be all that as it may, we will light the lights, zoom into services, exchange gifts, cook and eat together, watch movies, play games and be grateful for our blessings. Next year will be time enough for hearty merries and happies.