holiday

On being Jewish and my favorite Christmas present

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So I’m not Jewish – but for about forty minutes this morning, while pouring over a fellow blogger’s three short stories – full of descriptive imagery that opened a world I’ve never known – I could have been. In writing, I tell my kids it isn’t enough just to give me a telling, I need to be in that moment and sense it for myself. To digest the tale, I’ve got to believe it and to believe it I have to see it, taste it, smell it as if I existed in the same moment with the writer. I appreciate the less travelled- the rare- the authentic and the narrative always adds to the quality of any experience to bring it to the palate of the reader. Here’s my ‘thank you’ note to one of my budding writers when ‘thanks’ doesn’t really do justice in detailing the whole experience.

During the holiday season, we are told it is more important to give than to receive. In this case, what I received enabled me to pay it forward to someone else. Thank you for my gift because it was my most treasured present this year.

It was December 20th, the last day of school before winter break, and ready to kick off the holiday in true vacation spirit, I decided to stop for pizza. Pizza joints are always bustling on Friday nights, and this Friday, right before the holidays, was no exception. The weather was atypical for impending winter, so we sat outside waiting for my husband to meet up with us to avoid the crowded restaurant. When he finally arrived, I waited in line to place our order, while encouraging my husband to save a table in the swamped restaurant. He found one in an alcove buried under already used pasta dishes and leftover pizza crusts on paper plates, but I saw him nudge the mess over with the back of his hand and sit down. At about the same time, a lady who’d just placed her order before me set up camp across from him. From behind, I heard them making small talk and laughing so I placed our order and took our number to the table. I figured this would be interesting, battle of the wills staking claim to the single empty table.

There, across from my husband, sat a complete stranger. We introduced ourselves and noted the congested restaurant; she explained that she was waiting on her carry out and was Italian herself and quite comfortable with sharing a table while she waited; we welcomed her to wait at our table as our food hadn’t yet arrived. She described some of her life experiences – she was an accountant, divorced, single parent of a grown daughter; she was an avid traveler and had been to 48 of 50 states. She’d been to countless countries and dined on various cuisines. She was an expert on Italian cooking and shared some of her family’s recipes and even lived in Italy for years during young adulthood. She was knowledgeable of the world, politics, and well read.

Our pizza was up and the waitress brought out a blistering hot silver tray with a bubbly cheese and dough pie, accompanied by a handful of napkins and utensils. We enjoyed the company of our guest so much that we insisted she join us for dinner since her carry out order, strangely enough, still hadn’t arrived. We ate dinner and talked throughout our meal – she served my son seconds on pizza and helped him arrange his chosen toppings on his slice with her fingers that were made oily from the task. Sometime later, her carry out order was brought to the table, but she was already in the midst of eating a vegetarian pizza so it would’ve been silly for her to take her order home to eat alone. My son complaining about eating vegetarian, she tipped open the top of her meatball pizza box and removed the meatballs from her untouched order to arrange them on his plate as he watched wide eyed with gratitude.

Afterward, we hugged her goodbye and wished her a happy holiday and the best for the coming new year. As we walked to our car in silence, my husband and I suddenly both commented to each other that she must be very lonely to be out on a Friday to pick up her dinner, anticipating to eat at home alone. A unique evening to have shared a meal with a complete stranger who many may have overlooked and not recognized how appreciative she would have been at being included in a family dinner. The holidays become too busy for all of us focusing on too much of the commercial, less important aspects of Christmas buying and cramming events into schedules long on tasks but short on moments. This beginning to my holiday was the true reason for the season and the pause as my reminder to focus on the spirit of the season.

Perspective

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After two days off and a late opening due to snow I rejoiced in meeting the burn your eyes til they blur with tears bright white light shining back into my face rushing out of work yesterday afternoon. With the whole afternoon ahead of me and not much to do I thought – I love Wednesdays. I checked my to do list and it has dwindled to nearly nothing- which never happens. This is working out great – I thought- because I’ve meticulously planned very detail to accomplish a wide range of ‘to dos’ a couple days prior to having surgery that I’m completely weirded out by. Anything where I’m not in control of every decision – what goes on in the house and with my kids just gives me the heebie jeebies. At least I’d been able to control everything up until the point that I’m asleep. The house was cleaned, the kids taken care of, everyone familiar with their own to do list- issued by moi. It’s a funny thing when you think you’ve got everything under control when you are abruptly reminded that there is absolutely nothing under your control.

Shortly after I washed the last of a couple of dishes marveling in my ability to stay on top of everything I heard a short yell from my husband in the basement. He never yells and when I called back I got no answer. I headed downstairs and as I neared the back of the basement, the base of my socks were wet and the slushing of water in the carpet was merely the precursor to the wading pool that was in the exercise room. Talk about a lot of water. Fifty gallons has never gone so far. Our old baby – the water heater that we now know was original to the house – just gave out under her 21 years- double the ten year life expectancy of any other unloved ordinary water heater that isn’t blessed with a home where the mother loves sauna hot showers. She spewed water far and near and leaked into three rooms before she was tapped out. There weren’t enough towels in the world that could’ve soaked up that mess. December, standing in cold water up to my shins, I realized nothing like chapped soles and ankles to make you appreciate a dry floor. And I thought I had it all under control.

Surprisingly, my insurance adjuster worked late last night, the restoration company came within the hour, and the plumber changed out the water heater for a new monster baby that my husband calls ‘the Cadillac of the water heaters’ within about 12 hours flat and before my second cup of morning tea. Crisis averted. The above picture is post clean up.

I am one of those people who believes that everything happens for a reason. In my over the top fear of losing control, I needed the reminder that even when I think I’m in control it’s never mine. It’s what God or whatever higher power you subscribe to wants you to think is yours. Instead of worrying that something will go wrong in the house or in surgery making me overwhelmingly worried about my children, I’m reminded that it’s beyond my control anyway and I have to trust. Also, with every cloud a silver lining, as a person who likes to fix things, I was given one biggie to try to fix at the 11th hour and I’m grateful it was managed seamlessly. Nothing like a problem to get your mind off of something you perceived as a problem.

This holiday season, I’ve been given some much needed perspective and grateful for everything I have.

Another time around

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Anything old is my favorite of favorite things. When I find a stack of appetizer plates and can trace the pattern back to the early 1900s, I think about the parties they’d been invited to over the years- guests holding them in hand and laughing merrily in a time gone by. The scratches and imperfections visible memories of evenings that were – birthdays, weddings, celebrations. Antique furniture has the same appeal. While sitting at an old dining table, I think about the countless gatherings for family dinners, holidays, and late night conversations between parents and their children as they grew. It’s authentic history when cherished belongings are passed down through generations- the silent folklore that resides if only these pieces could talk. There is nothing like reflecting on this when I have a vintage piece – so imagine my delight when I found a stash of ornaments that belonged to an elderly gentleman for sale. I started yet another collection last year- this time ornaments. When I picked these ‘new’ additions up the other day I didn’t even look inside the boxes to count or explore until I got home. I was more intent as I listened as he told me about how the ornaments were from his own childhood while he helped me put them in my car – perplexed how he was able to part with them. I drove around with them seat-belted next to me in the passenger seat until the afternoon delight of Friday arrived. Immediately inside the door, on the floor, I gently unpacked the ornaments and began sorting them into cardboard compartments to store for one more month. Each color was unique and delicately detailed, the mottled color almost flaking off on some, and the genuine patina of old metal tops unmistakable. All in all, there easily must have been 200 ornaments packed within the three boxes – an entire tree worth of someone’s life story – who I met for a moment and will never see again. This season add to a collection from someone else’s past and see how that makes the holiday more precious.