"I write so that my handful of pebbles, cast into still waters, will create a ripple."

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Are You Anyone's Favorite Person?

This New Years I'm taking an idea from a YouTube video by Miranda July "Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody?" It has some timely thoughts for 2012 that may just possibly change your life. Check it out (but first finish reading my blog.)

Are you the favorite person of anybody?

Say what?

Are you anyone’s favorite person?

Uh, no.

How sure are you of that? Very sure? Confident? You think so?

Wait a minute. Yes I am. My sister. I’m my sister’s favorite person.

You sure of that?

I smile broadly. Yes. I’m sure. That’s what sisters are for. You can’t mistake favorite person-ness in sisters. We shared a room for years. We talk for hours about everything. We’re going to share a home when we’re old. And my husband. I’m his favorite person. Forty years and counting. He watches for me so he can share his adventures and his stories. We have each others back, Till death do us part and all that. And Mitzi, the young woman who worked for me for nearly a decade. For all those years I was her favorite person except for her father, and now he’s passed and she’s moved on, but the memories are there. Definitely her favorite person.

How can you be so sure about these guys?

Because…because…because they’re my favorite person right back. And my sister Laura because she’s so gentle and giving. And my nephews because they’re so strong under adversity. And my children because--wait there’s more….

I know I’m their favorite person because I put myself out there. And if I’m not #1 at the moment I’m at least #2, or maybe #3. I've definitely been on somebody’s  top 10 during the last decade. Anyway, who cares if favorite-ness doesn’t last forever? What matters is that I measured up at the time. 

It feels really good to know that I make a difference. Isn’t that the point of life? Something we can all agree on?

In the probability that I AM someone's Favorite Person, here’s what I’ve learned from it :
1.      Be sincere.
2.      Be of service.
3.      Be available.
4.      Reciprocate. Give back.
5.      Love without judging.
6.      Laugh without reason.
7.      If something needs fixing, fix yourself first.
8.      Put your best self forward consistently
9.      Apologize and mean it.
       Realize that you have the best half of the friendship.

How about you? Are you anyone’s favorite person? 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Keeping it Real this Christmas

One woman's campaign to keep it all together. 

Last night my husband and I attended the Vine Street lighting ceremony in Paso Robles. We strolled hand-in-hand down the twelve or so closed-off blocks lined with Victorian houses. It was a mood night—part romance, part nostalgia.

Non-profits, churches and youth groups handed out popcorn, cotton candy, cider and hot chocolate to thousands of visitors. Churches had living crèches, bands and singers along the route. Scrooge taunted the crowds from the second story of a Victorian, calling out bah-humbugs, with the crowd scoffing their replies. The Grinch was present along with giggling children and their parents. Lights on top of lights. Pure magic!

NOW I feel the Season. The Hallmark marathon I’ve watched the last five nights didn’t hurt, either. Maybe it’s a case of overkill—I heard myself actually debating the cinematic points of “The Christmas Card” today with my sister. She likes Debbie Macomber’s “Trading Christmas” better. Yikes! There was a time when those movies were too saccharine to stand. Now I plant myself in front of the TV at 7:00 every night to catch the new one. But it’s Christmas. Whatchagonnado?

I have to watch them pronto because next week it’s the Battle of the Nutcracker Ballet—each night a different one, and the viewers get to vote on their favorite. Last year I taped part of one. This year I’m going to tape them all so my four-year-old granddaughter and I can watch them when she comes for the holidays.

Thanks to Jennifer’s fabulous green website tips, I’ll be wrapping my gifts in newsprint this year. She’s a military wife with a great moral compass. My gifts are for the most part purchased from local venders I met at craft and art fairs while I was selling my books. (Relax, family, you’re not getting crocheted doilies or acrylic stretch booties.)

Not to boast (well, maybe a little), I bought locally from my writer friends, artists ( a little plug here for a deserving artist,) jewelers and carvers. It feels good to have a personal connection with the creative genius behind my purchase. I even like that my paper shopping bags have a signature on them. I’m breaking out the sewing machine and making a wedding dress for my granddaughter’s new doll. (Santa’s secret is safe because she only reads picture books.)

I just organized a cookie exchange with the caveat that some of them need to be gluten free. That should be fun—plates of goodies I don’t have to bake. I’ll look like Martha Stewart when my kids arrive. “Mom! My gosh, you’ve been busy!”

Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookies
1 cup peanut butter (or almond butter)
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1tsp baking soda
1/2 cup GF chocolate chips

Beat first four ingredients in mixer. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop rounded tablespoons two inches apart on parchment lined cookie sheets. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Makes about two dozen.

Two weeks until Christmas. Plenty of time to burn my first batch of fudge. I’m humming carols, vacuuming and dusting spots I only catch when company’s coming. I have a new recipe from Susan Gaddis for easy crockpot oatmeal that I’m going to try out on my health-conscious kids this year, after they spent Thanksgiving mocking our Friday night reward trips to Foster Freeze for hot fudge sundaes. Who would have thought THOSE would ever be no-no’s? I’ve outlived my era!

Now for the annual Christmas tree lot argument with my husband who knows nothing about perfect trees. Then a day of pulling everything down out of the attic, decorating and swearing that NEXT year I’m either hiring it done or throwing half the decorations away. Christmas tends to build until I’m sick of the whole idea and nothing could live up to the hype. I’ve gone this route before and I know the signs. Not going to happen!

Where I used to have to budget my time, now it seems like it’s my energy. But I’m lucky this year. I have a bunch of appointments scheduled for the end of the year. It’s my way of not getting crazy about Christmas and ending up an emotional dishrag. 

This year I’m treating my daughter, niece and their kids to the Christmas show at the Oceano Melodrama and staying home. Seems like an old-folks thing to do, parking myself in front of the fire and living vicariously knowing the grandkids will come home glowing with excitement. And if that doesn’t put me in the Christmas spirit, nothing will. Eggnog, anyone?

How’s it going for you this season? Any thoughts on keeping the spirits bright?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Hard Christmas

Here's a Christmas story that helps me remember the power of a mother's love. I'm sharing it as my gift to the Universe with my best Season's Greetings.  
Yesterday, I heard my first Christmas carol, "Silver Bells," on the car radio, coming home from Thanksgiving at my daughter’s. There’s a line in the song that grabs me every time— “Children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile…” It recalls the pure joy of Christmas shopping and furtive watching for my sisters while a shopping clerk takes forever to stow their unwrapped present in a plastic bag.
Holiday shopping will always be my favorite, a hangover from childhood when we would pile into our station wagon and head for town with our fistful of savings, and trudge through Cornet and Sprouse Reitz looking for the perfect gifts. A hardbound copy of Black Beauty cost fifty-nine cents, I remember because I spent long minutes considering the purchase.
A tube of Tangee Natural lipstick for my mother, going halfsies with my sisters for a foil sack of pipe tobacco for my father.

The three sweater girls and my brother
(I'm on the right.)

But there was a year that put everything into focus for later. Maybe everyone has one like that—the year when father was missing in action, or the crop failed, or mother lost her job at the cannery. Some of us are in those years now. Maybe the best we can do is to remind ourselves, this too, will pass.     
In 1959 we had just moved to Shandon, our family of nine squeezed into a tiny farmhouse on a frigid plain with half of our household possessions still piled under tarps in the yard. My father had left his steady job and bought a farm in late October, and any leftover cash was earmarked to feed us until the first crops came in.
The winter was hard. Ice crusted the water puddles and made our bare legs ache as we walked the quarter mile to the school bus. We were lonely and scared. That was the year I learned that poverty means you don’t even dare to want because you're afraid the desire might show in your face and it would hurt too much to have anyone know. My teacher read the “Gift of the Magi” that year in English, and I totally understood it  
Blessings were abundant that first winter, pots of soup and lamb stew and a square, squat propane heater that threw out enough heat to warm the living room, and a wood stove that took care of the kitchen. Fifty years later, the feeling of heat still engenders memories of coming out of frigid December wind and feeling love and safety as the door shut behind me.
I was eleven, in sixth grade. I wanted to be tall and thin, and shave my legs like the other girls, but I wanted my mother to know without my having to ask. We shared that special relationship that oldest daughters often do, and I was sure her warnings of a slim Christmas were exaggerations.   
Christmas morning I waited for my “big” present. When it was handed to me, the gift I opened brought a lump of disappointment I couldn’t disguise. It was a cheap J.C. Penney bulky knit cardigan to replace the one I was outgrowing, also white. I wanted a guitar and a pink poodle skirt, not a thick $2.99 sale sweater exactly like my sisters got. I remember holding it up to hide the tears from my mother, who was watching me. The sorrow in her eyes made it possible for me to fold the sweater with small, trembling passes and, finally, to look up and manage the brave smile. Later I tried my best to sound appreciative, but I knew I didn’t fool her. 
We made it through that Christmas. Mercifully, that ugly sweater wore out with repeated washings. The following school year I got a new car coat with our alfalfa money.
I have a soft spot for the “Coats for Kids” campaign in our town and each December I’m happy that kids get a new warm coat they can be proud of. But I’m even happier that “Toys for Tots” gives them something to play with, a reminder that they are children. That’s what grown-ups are for—to provide a promise that times will get better.
There were better Christmases for me—every one since has topped that bleak winter of 1959. Still, the memories of disappointment are softened by those of Mama making magic with a bottle of Karo syrup and a five-pound bag of C&S sugar from which she made popcorn balls and caramels—and divinity if it didn’t rain, Mexican orange candy if it did.
 What I remember most about that year is that Mama offered us a promise with every caramel walnut that came from her pan. 
 I now wear very warm coats. Thanks for donating to charities this season.
What’s the Christmas memory that keeps things in perspective for you?