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Tag: christmas

wishes for christmas

wishes for christmas

ever since i was little, ever since i’d scurry to bed and begin my nightly imagining, ever since i pretended i lived in my little old log house, the one tucked in the trees i pretended were woods, ever since i pretended i was a little girl growing up on a prairie, and my upturned coffee can was a cookstove, and weeds from the ditch were hay for my cow — my make-believe cow, of course — i’ve been rather accomplished in the department of make-believe.

and so, this particular interlude of days, the ones tucked right before christmas, they’re particularly fine for a girl of make-believe inclinations.

these are the days when you curl in an armchair, when you burrow under the thickest of blankets, when you drink in the crackle and pop of the logs on the hearth (“hearth” is a word a make-believe girl believes in, rather than the more pedestrian “fireplace,” which doesn’t hold nearly as much storybook punch, nor poetry).

once the snowflakes tumble, and the steam rises from the mug of hot coffee, well, you are in heaven on earth if you’re a make-believe girl. the magic swirls all around you.

so what you do is you grab your nearest writing device — the seasonally- charged red pen will do. and you start to unfurl your wonder list, your list of wishes for christmas.

if you’re me, and your heart holds more weight than your piggy bank ever will hold, you scribble yourself into a trance, making believe you could make wishes come true, and counting as high as you possibly can, listing the wishes you wish for.

1. i wish i had a star anise tree outside my kitchen window. i’d have harvested a bumper crop of the nose-tingling intoxicant i’ve been sizzling away in the banged-up pot on the stove. it’s my december’s indulgence.

2. i wish i’d thought to save cute little jars all year long so that now, when i’m wishing i could deliver wagon loads of christmas-y cheer to each and every glowing house near and far, i’d have just the right vessel to fill with star anise (see no. 1), and cinnamon sticks, and orange peel and cloves. i’m pretty much a failure in the martha-stewart department, so i make up for it by pretending i could do these cute little things.

3. i wish i could give my lumbering mailman, the poor fellow who slogs through whatever the weather gods rain down on him — sweltering heat, piles of snow, cats-and-dogs precipitation — i wish i could hand him a desk job. for at least a few days. or a shiny gold coin, because those stories in the news pages always make me all misty-eyed, when the unsuspecting soul reaches into her pocket and pulls out a wee disc of gold bullion.

4. i wish sometimes that my words had magical powers, and that whenever we spoke, our words were heard in the very way we intended. there’s no more heart-shattering moment than realizing what you thought you said, what you meant, was not heard that way at all.

5. i wish people who say mean things would stop for a minute and imagine how those words are going to feel when they pierce someone’s heart like a poisonous arrow.

6. i wish i could bundle up all the weight bearing down on my firstborn’s shoulders, and deliver him soundly and safely to the 13th of january — the day after his senior thesis is due, all 80 pages.

7. i wish i could make the tumors in my dear friend’s lungs please, please, go away.

8. i wish i could tiptoe just outside the kitchen door of all the wonder-souls who’ve been so deeply kind to me these past few weeks, as i wobbled and tried to be brave, as my wee little book took to the world. i wish i could string a hundred thousand lights in each someone’s back yard, in the shape of a giant blinking red heart, and, writing in long strands of itty-bitty bulbs, spell out how much their kindness, their faith, their “you got this!” has meant to my chest-bursting heart.

9. i wish i could wipe away the heartache in everyone i love, especially the very dear friend who’s facing this very first christmas without her beloved.

10. i wish my sister-in-law, the one in far-off maine, lived down the lane. i wish my family room floor was the place where her two little munchkins unwrapped their christmas-y mischief. and that the mug she liked best was ever perched just by the teas, so whenever she flung open the door, she knew i had time to pull up a chair, to discover the joys and the occasional troubles that pound in her heart.

11. i wish i could wish all day. i wish i could make these wishes come true.

12. i wish most of all that every dear and tender heart who stops here, who takes the time to pull up a chair, and drink in a few lines, i wish each and every one of you the great gift of imagining a more blessed way to live and breathe.

maybe, just maybe, if we all make a wish, if we all make a promise to pick just one random act of whimsy or kindness, if we pray hard for the impossible to melt into possible, we’ll all find an extra dollop of magic as we tiptoe ever so quietly toward christmas.

and, by the way, merry merry. may your days be dusted with heart-hoisting joys, and may the quiet of christmas settle in deep in the nooks and the crannies where the blessed is born.

what do you wish for this christmas?

when wonder comes for christmas

By Barbara Mahany, Tribune Newspapers

When at last the morning comes, I am not unlike the little child at Christmas. Having tossed and turned in anticipation, through all the darkest hours, at first light I throw back the blankets, slide into clogs, slither into a heavy sweater and tiptoe down the stairs.

For days, I’ve been stockpiling for my friends. I’ve corncakes stuffed with cranberries and pine cones wrapped in peanut butter. I’ve suet balls to dangle from the boughs, and little bags of birdseed, just small enough to stuff in all my pockets. I’ve a jug of fresh water for all to drink and splash before it turns to winter’s ice.

It’s time for a Christmas treasure all my own, one I unwrap every year.

My walk of wonder takes me no farther than the patch of earth I call my own, a rather unassuming tangle of hope and dreams and heartache (for what garden doesn’t crack a heart, at least once a season?), in my leafy little village.

I carve out this hour of Christmas morn, before the footsteps slap across the floorboards up the stairs, before I crank the stove, and kindle all the Christmas lights.

It’s my hour of solitude and near silence, as I tug open the back door and step into the black-blue darkness of the minutes just beyond the dawn.

It’s my chance to take in the winter gifts of my rambling, oft-rambunctious garden plots, and all who dwell among them — the birds, the squirrels and fat-cheeked chipmunks, the old mama possum, and, yes, the stinky skunk who sometimes ambles by and sends us dashing in all directions.

And, best of all, it’s my early Christmas moment to reciprocate the many gifts that all the seasons bring me.

I am nearly humming as I make my yuletide rounds: I fill the feeders, scatter seed and stuff an old stone trough with what I call the “critter Christmas cakes.”

At this scant hour, the black-velvet dome above is stitched still with silver threads of sparkling light. And limbs of trees, bare naked in December, don’t block my upward glance at all that heavens offer.

This is where my prayer begins, as I whisper thanks for all the chirps and song, for flapping wings and little paws that scamper — all of nature’s pulse beats that bring endless joy, and teach eternal lessons.

As light brightens in the southeast corner of the sky, the architecture of the wintry bower emerges. The black of branches — some gnarled, others not unlike the bristles of an upturned broom — etch sharp against the ever-bluer sky.

Exposed, the silhouette reveals the secrets of the trees — the oak, the maple and the honey locust that rustles up against my bedroom window.

As I come ’round a bend, gaze up and all around, I cannot miss the nests not seen till late in autumn, when the trees disrobed and shook off their blazing colors.

In murky morning light, the nests appear as inkblots of black among the lacy boughs. Only in winter do we realize how many dot the arbor. There is the contour of the squirrels’ shoddy leaf-upholstered hovel high up in the maple, and, down low in a serviceberry, the robins’ tuck-point masterpiece of twigs.

While in robust and leafy times, the trees did not let on, but in winter’s stripped-down state there’s no hiding the part they play in watching over the nursery, shielding barely feathered broods and not-yet-furry baby squirrels from wind and sleet and pounding rains. Or even too much sun.

This cold morning, all is still. Every nest is empty, every bird house hollow once again. Where the winter birds cower, where they huddle, close their eyes and doze, I cannot figure out. Somewhere, even at this illuminating hour, they’re tucked away in slumber.

It won’t be long till the stirrings come, but for now the only sound is the scritch-scratch of brambles and left-behind leaves as they brush against my legs. I make my way among them, along a bluestone path, past all the shriveled blooms of not-forgotten summer.

The moppy heads of hydrangea, now dried and crisped to brown, are bowed but not surrendered, still clinging, even in the cold. And all that’s left of all the roses are persimmon-colored full-to-bursting hips, a final exhortation, punctuation on the winter page.

By the time the Big Dipper fades from the morning sky, that early riser, papa cardinal, ignites the winterscape with his scarlet coat. Soon follows the red-bellied woodpecker, a nuthatch or two, and, not long after, the choristers of dun-robed sparrows, all a-chatter with Christmas morning news.

I take cover back behind a fir tree, where the crowd at the feeder pays no mind. And where in winter storms, I find the flocks, too, take shelter, the only branches left that promise shield and a place to hunker down. For anyone who wants to hide — too often it’s the hungry hawk — these piney limbs are plenty thick.

Then I get brazen, and toss a handful of peanuts to the bristle-tailed squirrels. These are mere hors d’oeuvres, of course, for that trough now spills with Dickensian plenty — among the larder, bumpy apples no one wanted, and pumpkins plucked from the after-Thanksgiving discount bin.

It is all my way of making real my unending gratitude, of bowing deep and soulfully to Blessed Mama Earth.

and so twas my christmas morning meander in the pages of the chicago tribune, where, yes, i must act all grown up and enter the word of capital letters.

pointillist of joy

poin’til-lism (pwan’), n. [Fr. pointillisme, from pointiller, to mark with dots.] the method of painting of certain French impressionists, in which a white ground is systematically covered with tiny points of pure color that blend together when seen from a distance, producing a luminous effect.

***
and so, i realized, this season, for me, is a pointillist of joy.

i no longer search for the cymbal crash, the percussive cacophony of big bangs. i have an ear out for the tinkling of glass chimes, blowing in the winter breeze. i listen for the bells, far off, gently. i sigh at the sound of simmering on the stove.

i find the beauty, the luminous beauty, in the accumulation of teeny-tiny sparks of joy. and so, the painter of my own tableau, i have my brush always at the ready, tucked within my pocket. i am searching, dabbing, dropping pure color onto the canvas of my life.

i find pure contentment, bliss, in tiny packages, the moments of my life, wrapped up as with a floppy scarlet satin bow.

i find it all around.

and that, for me, is the abundant gift of this season. if you don’t come rushing at it, if you allow it to open itself up, to reveal the deep stirrings, to pierce the dark with incandescent light.

i find it on the kitchen table, crowded now with candles. the menorah, each night adds another glow. the advent wreath, now fully lit. the everyday tapers, standing sentry, now burn too. one dinner might be powered by the light of 10 candles, and we are barely half way into hanukkah. by the end we’ll be holy ablaze (and have the extinguisher at the ready).

i find my points of joy in the sweet perfume of bay leaf and clove that rose, in impermeable clouds, i tell you, from the oven all last eve, as the six pounds of brisket cooked down into the hanukkah elixir.

i find joy in waking early, in plugging in the christmas lights. in the silence of the early morn, when i’m alone. when carols hum from the radio, a seasonal shift from the abysmal morning’s news.

i find joy in toting my coffee can of seed out to the feeders, where cardinals flit, ignite the morning landscape. just this morning i discovered what looked like a white-headed cardinal. there’s no such thing, i know. i won’t find it in any field guide, so do i have some aberration or did someone’s pet parakeet (an odd breed of one at that) fly the coop, and move into my backyard? it is a joy that will delight me all day long, as i try to unravel the mystery of the albino-headed bird.

i find joy this joyful season in wrapping up berry-studded loaves of holiday bread in white baker’s paper, in hearing the rustle of the sturdy wrap as i bend it round the loaf, as i tie it up in string, red string, as i tiptoe in the dark to all my neighbors’ doors, ring the bell and wish a merry christmas.

i find joy in stashing my bedroom closet with odd-shaped boxes and a few bags, santa’s wardrobe, indeed. as my little one will not let on that he knows who santa is, and so i hide the few fine things that santa’s checked off the list, procured for my sweet believer.

i find joy in red berries tucked around the house. a big fat splurge, at 15 bucks for one fistful of christmas berries. but as someone at the market said, “if you can’t splurge at christmas, then when ever would you splurge?”
splurge on, oh joyful wonders.

i find joy by the sleighful in my still-limping cat, my cat who laps up cream as we tend to him, pamper him, await the full return of his vim and vigor.

i find joy in that little boy of ours, the one not too big to snuggle in our beds, the one who whispered a prayer the other night that his big brother would get home safe, “in two pieces,” he requested. two pieces? i shot back, disturbed by the mental picture of his brother snapped in halves. “yeah,” said the little one, “one piece for him, one piece for his luggage.”

indeed, two pieces.

i found everlasting joy this very morning when at last the phone rang. and it was that very brother, a croaky-voiced version all the same. for the better part of half an hour, which felt like all day, no one could find him. the van that had pulled up to the dorm to take him to the airport, they reported that they “couldn’t find him.” the phone rang and rang and no one answered. you needn’t know me long to know what i can imagine in the flash of an instant, and i imagined all right. was without breath or color in my face for the better part of that half hour. till the campus police knocked on his dorm-room door, and found him, sound asleep with runny nose and barely any sound coming from his swollen, croaky throat.

so when the phone rang, when he was alive and not slumped under some tree (or worse), my heart rang out in everlasting joy. joy that will carry me through christmas, indeed.

yes, oh yes, i’ve realized over recent years, and emphatically in recent weeks and days, that i’ve become a gatherer of tiny points of joy.

i embroider my life with sweet somethings, little somethings. the pure satisfaction of a single moment in time when i am immersed, awash, in somethings beautiful.

when i feel the flutter of a wing, not far above my head in the serviceberry branches.

when i inhale the spicy notes of pine or clove or cinnamon and orange peel.

when i wrap my fingers in the chubby little ones of my sweet little boy, as he lays beside me in his flannel pj’s, as he warms the sheets, as he whispers words of love-drenched hope and prayer.

the equation of my life, of my joy, i’ve come to know is a long string of one plus one plus one.

and it all adds up, quite exuberantly, quite deliciously, and intoxicatingly so, to a canvas that takes my breath away.

so luminescent is the depth of holy sacred joy.

merry everything as we tiptoe into the christmas weekend, as we march along through the eight days of hanukkah, as we await the travelers in our lives. as we gather round the hearts and souls we love, and the ones we miss but feel anyway in that mystical way in which our dearest deepest loves never really leave us, can be felt full force through the powers of the heart.
come back for christmas, if you find the time, for i’ve an essay that i’ll post here, once the tribune posts it first.
sending love. and joy.

making my list and checking it twice

i know how the fellow feels. being something of a list-maker and checker myself.

poor chubby ol’ elf. all those roofs on which to glide to a stop. all those sooty old chutes to get stuck in, what with a whatchamahoojie poking out from the pack.

after all these many, many christmases here, the jolly one is still making appearance. the little one teeters in that netherworld of probably not believing when he’s out on the school yard, but here, where it’s safe, where it’s home, where there’s no harm in extending the tease, he plays like he’s a believer.

uncanny, i know.

but sweet.

and so, as in so many uber-sized catholic families, as in the town where i grew up, when the gap between the top of the dozen and the wee one at the bottom was maybe 18 years, or 15, or for the gestational superstars, perhaps only 12, we are sending one off to college with drop-down from santa.

it’s the morning of christmas that has long been my favorite, those wee early hours stitched with suspense, with waiting, with listening for footsteps from the rooms up above.

i will be the earliest riser, if my christmas wish comes true. i’ll be alone in this old house where the whole of the morning wraps me in comfort and tidings of joy.

i’ll tiptoe down in the near-dark of dawn, plug in the lights on the tree. turn up the flame under the banged-up pot on the stove, the one that holds “smell,” my now legendary mix of orange peels and cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and cloves, all simmering in a murky pot of boiled-down clove water.

i’ll kerplunk into boots and trudge out in the snow. the birds, top on my list, as i call out, “merry christmas, babies, here’s breakfast.” i think for the holiday i’ll dump cranberries in with their suet bits and sunflower seed.

back in the house, now that the chimney will have been cleared, i’ll lay down the logs and kindle the flames. no fires allowed till the wide elf makes his delivery, but i’ll be the first to see that, by then, he’s sprinkled sweet somethings all about the room, one pile per each boy.

i’ll check the cookies and milk, left out the night before. and sure enough, there will be nibbles, and a ring in the glass. that ol’ elf never fails to leave crumbs and a dirty glass, besides.

but it’s all right, we understand. he’s places to go, and chimneys to climb.

won’t be long till i hear the percussive thud of the boy in the bed leaping awake (the one rare morn when getting him up does not involve trumpets and icy buckets of water). next up on the sound panel will be the little one begging the big one to please please get up. and the big one, inherently sweet, will oblige, will slide in his slippers, will wipe the sleep from his eyes, and together they’ll tromp down the steps, round the bend.

and i, in classic santa mode, will stand back and beam, watching the boys who i love with all of my heart take in the wonder and loot that fell from the sack.

and for the 18th christmas that i’ve been so blessed, i’ll feel my ol’ thumper fill up and spill–the magic of santa, indeed and indeed, is that every once in a very rare while we get to step into magic and let it play out.

same props. same story. year after year after year.

and may we all live happily ever after.

merry blessed christmas to you and to yours. to the little wee ones who fought to get here. to the big kids who climbed their own mountains this year. whatever are the stories that brought you to this holy winter’s morn, hallelujah and joy everlasting. may you find your bliss this christmas.