Archive for December 2011

Christmas Day 2011

December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas, everyone.

For years I sang in choirs and loved the music of this season. Below is my favorite song sung by Julie Andrews. It’s not one often heard, but is so meaningful for the bittersweet lovely season we are in. I hope you take time to click and listen. It’s so worth it. 


This last one is for my sisters. Who can’t identify Der Bingle with Christmas and in a much lighter tone than Julie’s. My sisters will no doubt sing this once or twice this holiday season but we don’t limit it to the Christmas season. We rarely use the blue feathers either. 🙂

White Christmas? Bah, humbug!

December 18, 2011

Snow on railings before sunrise

We got our first measurable snow yesterday morning. Measurable—but not so much you had to get out a shovel. Actually a broom handled it just fine unless one wanted to wait until the sun came out to melt the white powdered sugar away.

Now if my Grandpa were still alive, he’d make a note of the date and write it on the calendar.

Then he’d tell me that’s how many measurable snows we’d have this winter. If his theory holds true, I can count on 17 measurable snowfalls this winter season.

Right now, that doesn’t sound awful but measurable can be what we experienced early this morning. Or it could be of blizzard quality.

My Alaska son had one of those last weekend. And that wasn’t the first they’d endured already this winter. Our east coast has already gotten a nasty blizzard just before Halloween. In my book that’s way too soon for such weather.

Now life should be like this White Christmas

But Christmas is next weekend. In this northern climate we often think of Christmas as being white, just as in the song White Christmas. Or the movie by the same name (one of my favorites) with a subplot about no snow which is badly hurting the Vermont ski lodge where a good portion of the movie takes place.

Of course, at the end on Christmas Eve, snow arrives and makes everything gloriously beautiful, white, and very romantic.

I remember another Christmas Eve which started out warm. While our family was celebrating at my sister’s home the temps dropped dramatically. Snow accumulated quickly. The winds whipped up off the lake. That usually means more snow—the heavy, wet variety.

This was one of our first Christmases dealing with our disabled son and his huge, very complex wheel chair. We hadn’t learned yet to be prepared for everything bad to happen, just in case. Power wheelchairs, deep snows, and high winds are a recipe for disaster. Our family learned that lesson that night.

So what happened you’re asking?

The Cousins

Well, my hubby was choir director and I was in the choir. Since we had a short choir practice before the Christmas concert and midnight Mass, we left my sister’s before the others. (We had a caregiver helping us with our son that night and his male cousins were very good at dealing with his wheelchair.) Practice went well, the concert was perfect. But the family never showed. Mass went on and then we headed back to my sister’s. (This is well before cell phones were generally available.)

That drive wasn’t easy and as we turned onto her street was saw our son’s modified van. In a ditch. An ambulance was visible along with tow trucks trying to extricate the van from the drifts and the ditch. My family members were busy trying to help as they could.

No one was hurt. Our disabled son was laughing about the whole situation. So were my nieces and nephews who were about the same age. My sister was consoling my mother who’d missed midnight Mass, my other sister was trying to calm her husband who was upset by the whole incident, and everyone was talking at once while my husband and I were trying to figure out what had happened.

And still the snow came down. And the winds roared. And I was beginning to HATE a white Christmas.

So what happened?

Here’s the scoop. When Stephen, his caregiver, and the rest of the family prepared to leave for church, they realized just how much the weather had deteriorated with all the white stuff. First task was get Stephen loaded into the van; however, his chair broke down when the controls got too wet when he barreled through a drift like he might have with the snowboard he used to use. Well, the chair quit. The cousins pushed the wheelchair (weighs about 250 pounds without him in it) back to the warmth and safety of the garage and then tried to get the van closer. Because the van didn’t have the high clearance for all the snow, it immediately swerved into the ditch.

Everyone went back into the house, scrapping Christmas Mass. Calls were made to a towing service. No one was working on Christmas Eve. The only way to get our son home was to call an ambulance with a gurney which they could lay him on and keep the ventilator functioning properly.

Slow driving on a Christmas Eve night

By the time we got there, the plans were in process. We all finally got home. And that was a hassle getting Stephen into our home without his wheelchair which still didn’t work. So with the cousins extra help, the paramedics got him downstairs and settled into his bed.

By that time our son was hypothermic because he can’t control his body temperature and had been in the cold too long. Thank God, the very competent nurse, a, little woman who weighed maybe 120 pounds and never could have gotten him home alone, knew exactly what to do to warm him up and get him settled in for a long winter’s nap.

No clatter of reindeer hooves or Santa’s sleigh woke him or us that night.

It was a Christmas to remember and to learn from. White Christmases are not always romantic or lovely.

In fact to this day, if we think snow is on the way, we change plans if it means taking our son out on Christmas.

But do I like snow on Christmas? Yeah, probably, as long as it’s gone in a few days.  What about you?

And to all, finally, a good night...

Bittersweet December

December 11, 2011

Painful but Pretty

December is one third completed. How can this be? Didn’t I just turn the calendar over from November to December?

But December has happened, and I have to say these first eleven days of December have brought both great sadness and monumental joy.

The month started off with an email from a dear friend. The email was very short but its message devastating. Her husband had died quite suddenly during the night. As I read this email I pictured him as I saw him last. My husband and I shared a lovely lunch together when they visited us. I will always remember this lunch and those few hours the four of us shared.

My heart aches for my friend. My husband has had several very close calls with his health and I’ve lain awake many nights making sure he’s breathing. I’ve spent too many nights in hospitals wondering if he would pull through. I’ve always been thankful that he’s survived those times. I don’t know why. But I feel my friend’s loss, perhaps because I’ve felt the whisper of what she’s enduring and by a miracle escaped.

But December is not an easy month for me and this recent death solidifies that fact. You might ask why?

Ed & Grace

Because December has claimed too many people I dearly love.

First of all, my beloved Grandpa, Ed. He died quite suddenly during a blizzard while he was shoveling snow. The date? December 23, 1959. Christmas wasn’t really Christmas that year though it was a holiday he loved celebrating. Why was he shoveling snow? Because he couldn’t miss work—that wasn’t in his nature, and it was to be his last day before he retired.

I had helped him shop for Grandma the week before and then I wrapped his gifts for her. We were all devastated by his loss.

My dearest Grandma, Grace, Ed’s wife also died in December. But several years later in 1976 on the 13th. I remember she called earlier that day and asked me to stop by after my night class. I did and what she wanted was to give me a few very old photos that she’d written who the people were and about when the photos were taken. We talked about them. Two hours after I left her, I got the call to get to the hospital. She lived a few more hours, long enough for me to speak briefly with her.

And then she was gone. That was awful. Another not-so-great Christmas. A terrible December. The only good part? I know my grandpa was waiting for her and she’d missed him all those years he wasn’t with her. But as a family we needed her during those years. I guess that was God’s plan.

Perhaps the most difficult unexpected death, however, was my son, John. December 22, 1999. He was far too young to die. My grandpa never held John in his arms; he would have had he lived. My grandma held him, loved him, watched him grow to a teen–always with a smile on his face, a deep love for his family and Christmas. But oh, how that loss still haunts me, especially during December.

So December has often been the cruelest of months for me and my family.

Zach--just a few hours old

But this past week—a joyful event occurred. My dear niece and her husband welcomed the birth of a son, Zachary Charles. Family members are already referring to him as Zach. This anticipated babe joins his big sister who was also born in December. Thank goodness for these two precious children. The joy they bring eases the sadness of the month.

So my message this week?

Life is bittersweet. The bitter makes us strong. The sweet gives us the courage to be strong.

Birthday Women–Pure Platinum

December 4, 2011

For Stella and Ella

Two very special women are celebrating their birthdays. My world is better for knowing both of them. I’m quite sure others who know them feel the same. While I can’t be with them today, I’m with them in my thoughts and I’m remembering the times I’d see them regularly.

Stella came into my life first. My mother taught her children. Her family attended the same church my family did. She taught at the college my brother attended and she was one of his professors. When I started back to college part time, I would nod at her and she’d nod at me. After all, we did see each other in church. She knew who I was. I knew who she was.

Then my life fell apart. My husband and I separated after 10 years of marriage; I was basically single parenting three young boys and trying to support them on a work/study job which only allowed me to work ten hours per week. Just prior to this, Stella was promoted at the college and became the head of her division. She heard I needed a job or I’d likely have to drop out of school. Now if my personal life was a mess, my academic life wasn’t. I was doing very well, exceeding in all my classes.

Ella--tiny and terrific

Well, one day just as I got home from picking up my sons from school the phone rang. The caller was Stella’s assistant. She indicated Stella suggested she talk to me as she needed some help in the office. She would like to interview me for some work in the office. Could we establish a time to discuss what she wanted.

That assistant was Ella, the other birthday woman today.

Ella offered me the job. While I worked in that office under her direction, Ella taught me so much. I have used that knowledge in so many ways with every task and in every position I have held since then. She was a mentor, a friend, a woman to admire. I owe Ella. And she holds a very special place in my heart. Working full time around my classes and on the same campus made my life much easier.

While taking classes, I was able to take several from Stella. I not only learned grammar, writing skills, and literature from her, I watched and learned how she handled her classes, interacted with her students, displayed her deep love of her subject in such a way she pulled her students into her world and learning became a powerful adventure.

She became professor, mentor, friend. But I never called her Stella until I started teaching and she offered me a part time position teaching writing. But I still found it difficult not to call her by her title. She’s that inspirational.

When I left the college to pursue graduate work in another city, my days of interacting daily with two women ceased. But not our friendship. Not what I owe them for aiding me on my journey to become the woman I am. (The photos today were taken at the “goodbye” gathering on my last day of work.)

Stella and Me

Stella and Ella are pure platinum. These days their hair color reflects their inner worth. I am honored I had my time in your very special worlds.

So a very happy birthday, Stella and Ella, my two platinum friends. And thank you so much for taking me under your wings and into your hearts when you did.

Ella and me