Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade 2224

A woman sits alone in a darkened living room, watching a holographic parade pass her by. The colorful digital floats include digital people and gigantic digital balloons of animals that no longer exist. As she moves her camera up and down the length of the parade, other viewers wave at her from their living rooms and wish her a happy Thanksgiving.

Her son wanders in and plops down on the couch beside her. “What are we watching?” he asks.

“The 300th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It’s a tradition.”

“Who’s Macy?”

“Macy’s was something called a department store, back when people used to physically go places to do their shopping.”

“Wasn’t that dangerous?”

“Yes, but they didn’t know that at the time. People used to gather in large groups on the streets in New York City, too, to watch the parade.”

“That’s crazy. And since when are there streets in New York City?”

“Remember that gondola ride we took? That was on what used to be 5th Avenue. Before the water rose up, all those canals used to be streets.”

“Wow. I didn’t know that. Will we be eating soon?”

“Sure, honey. I’m going to show you how people used to cook. And then I’ll show you some holograms of what turkeys used to look like back then. You’ll be shocked.”

“Cool!”

Was I the only one who found the Macy’s parade bittersweet this year?

Like the way my weird mind works? Then you’ll enjoy my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Happy Boxing Day

Every year in December, sooner or later, I happen to glance at a calendar and notice that it designates December 26th as Boxing Day, usually with “U.K., Canada” in parenthesis after it. But what the heck is Boxing Day, anyway? I’ve always wondered, but have been too lazy to find out up to now.

I’m ashamed to admit that until extremely recently, I assumed it had something to do with the sport of boxing, and I always found that a bit jarring for the day after you’re supposed to be celebrate Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men. But I’d just sniff and say, “Well, those crazy Brits, you know…”

It turns out that I got it all wrong.

According to Wikipedia, there are several theories about how this holiday came about, but the most popular one seems to be that it was a time for the upper classes to bestow a box of money or gifts on their servants. The poor servants, of course, had to stick around and serve their masters on Christmas Day, so they were allowed to go home and see their families the day after. The rich people, probably to assuage their mild guilt for having treated these servants abominably all year long, would give them a gift to share with their families, pat them on the head and send them on their merry way, with the expectation that they’d be back to scrubbing by the day after.

I can see why this holiday never caught on in the U.S. While we have pretty much identical and outrageous income inequality, we would never admit this publicly. We certainly wouldn’t celebrate it. All Men here are supposed to be created equal, after all. The fact that we cling to this myth is why we don’t get a handout every December 26th. Yay us.

But Boxing Day has evolved over time. As fewer families had servants, Boxing Day turned into a day where you would relax and spend time with family. I’m told by a Canadian friend that it was also known as a day when you passed on gifts you don’t need to people whom you think could use them. You might slip a discreet envelope of cash to the postman. It also became a time to watch and participate in sports, and a time to raise money for charities.

For a while, it was also a big day for fox hunting in Britain. For the uninitiated, this was dressing up in finery, tearing up the countryside on horseback with your buddies, as a pack of your dogs chased down and wore out a poor unsuspecting fox for its ultimate demise, for no good reason other than that it was tradition. I mean, it’s not like people crave fox meat after all. But fortunately, that sport has been banned. Now people still do the riding bit, but without the killing bit, which must look just as appalling even without the blood.

For an equally gory take on Boxing Day, check out this article, which describes what they used to do in Ireland. There, it was known as St. Stephen’s Day. Good old Steve was apparently stoned to death for believing in Jesus. So what did the Irish decide to do to commemorate this man? A group of boys would go out, stone wrens to death, and then carry their little bodies from house to house asking for money. I’m glad that tradition has fallen out of favor. But much like with fox hunting, these Wren Boys still do the parading about town bit without the crushing in the birdie’s little skulls bit. Go figure.

I wish Boxing Day had ended there. But no. In recent years it has turned into a time to take advantage of sales, with the same kind of horrifying frenzy of consumerism that we Americans indulge in on Black Friday.

This transformation mirrors that of society at large. First, your betters throw you a bone. Then you passively celebrate, perhaps with a macabre twist. Then you trample your neighbors to buy things that you can’t afford and don’t really need. Because Capitalism is just wonderful. ‘Tis the season.

Happy Boxing Day.

Boxing Day.jpg

Like this quirky little blog? Then You’ll love my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Tradition with a Twist

Traditions can be quite comforting, especially during the holiday season. They remind us of celebrations past, and of loved ones far and near. They bring us together, and connect us with the generations that came before us, who made our lives possible.

While I find it soothing to be able to run on automatic pilot, know exactly what’s expected of me, and rest merrily on the back of decades, sometimes centuries, of tradition, I’m also someone who loves to be different. I like to think outside the box. I like to zig when everyone else is zagging.

These two conflicting desires came into play for me recently, and resulted in a very unique and delightful experience.

I am someone who likes to have a live Christmas tree. I’ve had one pretty much every December of my life, and I can’t imagine switching to an artificial one at this late date. Part of the tradition, of course, includes obtaining the tree. On this, the second Christmas of my marriage, we’ve incorporated a new tradition that we started last year. We went to Pfaff’s Old Time Christmas Tree Farm to cut our own tree.

Pfaff’s is an amazing place, and not just because I like saying Pfaff. It’s a 30 acre tree farm in the middle of the otherwise densely populated coastal region of the Pacific Northwest. It’s fun just to walk among the wide variety of fir trees, searching for the perfect one, and breathing in the smell of pine sap.

We had pretty much braced ourselves for a long search, but in fact we came upon our tree almost instantly. This tree was like no other tree on the lot. That reason alone made us know it would be ours.

First of all, it was a blue spruce, and Pfaff’s has only 5 or 6 of those to begin with. We were told that that was because blue spruce spread disease among other trees. I have no idea. But I have a weakness for blue spruce. And this was like no Christmas tree you’ve ever seen. It wasn’t conical. In fact, it was a flat disc. Imagine a pancake. A pancake that is 7 feet in diameter. That’s our tree.

Apparently someone had taken the top of this tree off a few years ago, and probably had a nice, normal shaped tree as a result. Over time, what was left of the tree healed itself and prospered, to become what we were seeing on this day. Our weird, pancake tree.

Tree1

It took us a minute or two to convince each other that yes, we really both wanted this quirky tree. The fact that we were of the same mind about this is one of the many reasons I married this guy. He started sawing away while I stood by, giggling quietly. (Note to self: bring the chainsaw next year.)

In no time, we had it upside down in the bed of our truck. I was convinced that Pfaff would pay us to get this strange tree off their property, but it was pointed out that its limbs would have provided many a valuable holiday wreath, so yeah, we paid up. (They did ask us to send them a picture once it was decorated, though!)

I wonder what other cars thought when they saw the long, naked tree stump sticking up from the back of the truck as we made our way home.

Tree2

We had to rearrange a lot of furniture before we brought the tree into the house. This tree may not be tall, but it’s still the biggest tree I’ve ever owned. It was no mean feat just getting it in the door.

Decorating it was fun. We needed a grabber pole thingy to reach the back corner, and most of the ornaments were placed on top, kind of like Miss Muffet on her tuffet, rather than hanging beneath the branches. We both decided that a star on top would not be appropriate, as the whole tree was basically a top. But we stuck a few plastic yard flamingoes on there because we could.

We’ve yet to have any visitors over to weigh in on the results, but I’m very proud of our tree. The dogs are surprisingly indifferent about the whole thing. I suppose they’ve already accepted the fact that we are strange. To that I say that there’s nothing wrong with letting your freak flag fly.

Happy Holidays!

Like this quirky little blog? Then You’ll love my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

What a Difference a Person Can Make

Last year, I went with a friend to the Great Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition here in Seattle, and I blogged about it. I had a wonderful time. But beneath the surface, I was feeling this great, yawning, howling, aching chasm of loneliness.

While I spent most of the holidays bravely stuffing that down and trying not to let it overwhelm me, it was a very near thing. Sometimes I could feel it surging upward, and I knew that if I let it take over, I’d probably lose my battle with depression and start howling or something.

Even so, Figgy Pudding is a wonderful event, and I decided to make it part of my Christmas tradition. I went again this year with my husband. As we stood there, listening to the carolers beneath the glow of the huge Christmas tree, what I felt was joy. No physically painful ache in the pit of my stomach. No feeling of being on the verge of hysteria. Just contentment. What a gift this man is in my life. He’s all I need for Christmas.

And then I looked around at the crowd, and I realized that no one who looked at me this year or last would have known my state of mind. I’m sure there was a lot of joy in the crowd, but also a lot of longing for companionship. A lot of pervasive emotional pain. The fact that it often looks one and the same is a bit troubling.

I’m not saying that everyone in the whole world must walk about two by two in order to be happy. Some people are perfectly satisfied being alone. I know I felt that way for quite some time. Some people who are in relationships are even more lonely than their single friends, and that’s got to be even more emotionally excruciating.

I just find it kind of enlightening to realize that there’s really no way to know what’s going on beneath the surface unless you talk to someone. We need to communicate more. We need to put down our devices and actually connect.

And to those of you who are swirling in that deep dark pit of loneliness that I used to know all too well, I just want to say that it may feel like that’s your forever, but keep reaching out. You never know when someone will take your outstretched hand, and that changes everything. I’m living proof of that.

Carolers

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Cultural Traditions

Recently I kicked off my holiday season by going to Julefest at the Nordic Heritage Museum here in Seattle, Washington. It’s become one of my favorite traditions since I moved out here, because I’m half Danish, and my mother always shared that cultural heritage with us, particularly around Christmastime. I ate my Æbleskiver and I purchased my Juleneg for my yard. If you don’t know what those things are, you aren’t Danish. That’s okay, though. You can learn.

That’s what I love about cultural celebrations. You don’t have to come from that particular culture to enjoy them, but if you do, it adds another layer of pleasure to the experience. The whole day, I felt as though my grandmother were peeking over my shoulder and smiling. I was transported back to childhood and beyond.

I have never even been to Denmark, but all things Danish seem to speak to me. “Here are your roots. Here, you are home.” It’s a warm, comfortable, welcoming feeling that I get nowhere else. The Danish would call that Hygge.

If you have an opportunity to explore your cultural heritage, I highly recommend that you do so. I don’t know how these vibrations get passed down through the generations, but there’s a good chance that you’ll find that things resonate with you. It’s a wonderful feeling. It tells you more about who you are.

This planet is chock full of heritage. That’s what makes travel so exciting. That’s why I welcome immigrants of every stripe. New experiences give us depth and breadth and they open our minds to new possibilities. They broaden our horizons and give us a diverse palette with which to paint our lives.

Experiencing other cultures is not the same as cultural appropriation. That theft comes with mockery and arrogance. Experiencing, on the other hand, is a way to honor our differences. It says, “I don’t know much about you. Please tell me. I want to learn.” I can’t think of anything more valuable than that mindset. Can you?

Æbleskiver
Æbleskiver! Yum!

Cultivate an attitude of gratitude! Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

 

The Giving Gift

A dear friend of mine gave me the best Christmas gift ever this year. It was a card. A simple card. But inside, it said, “In the spirit of the season, a night of housing, hot meals, and hope at the Sulzbacher Center were given, in your honor, to a homeless man, woman or child.”

I love the Sulzbacher Center. It’s a shelter in Jacksonville, Florida, the city I once lived in. They do amazing work. So I got to imagine that for one night, at least, someone was safe and warm and not hungry. Someone could sleep without fear. That gift was really for them, but thinking about it made me feel really good, in the way that getting something to wear or to be forced to dust for the rest of my life would not have. My dear friend knows me well.

If I had children, I would make it a tradition each Christmas to give them a “giving gift”. But I’d take it even one step further. I’d let them choose what charity to give to. I’d make a card that said something like, “You now get to spend x amount of dollars on a charity of your choice.” I’d help them research charities, if they liked. Or they could pick a problem, and then choose a charity that’s trying to help solve that problem, such as homelessness or abused animals or disease in third world countries, or natural disaster recovery.

The giving gift would be an annual lesson in compassion for others and problem solving, and it would demonstrate that happiness doesn’t come from getting stuff, it comes from doing good. There’s no better gift than that. And it doesn’t have to be restricted to just one holiday. It’s great for birthdays or Valentine’s day or any other gift giving occasion.

Feel free to start using this idea. It’s my gift to you. And to help get you started, here are links to two of my favorite organizations, Heifer International and Kiva.org.

Happy Holidays, dear readers! And thank you for making this blog such a delight for me! You are truly a gift.

gift

If you absolutely insist on giving an actual gift, my book makes a nice one! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Jólabókaflóð

Cultural appropriation is a big no-no these days. We are starting to learn to respect each other’s diversity, and try not to turn other people’s sacred things into kitsch as we once were wont to do. But I just came across an Icelandic tradition that involves two of my all-time favorite things: books and chocolate. So appropriate it I will.

It’s called Jólabókaflóð, which means Christmas Book Flood, and it began in Iceland after World War II, when everything was being rationed except paper. So for Christmas, people started giving each other books. Since it’s their tradition to open their gifts on Christmas Eve, it became quite natural for them to spend that evening reading their new books. (I don’t know how the eating chocolate part came into the mix, but I’m sure not complaining.)

What a delightful idea. And the best part is that I’ve gotten Iceland’s seal of approval to steal this tradition. As a matter of fact, they encourage it. They are spreading the word about Jólabókaflóð to people all over the world, to inspire reading. According to NPR, Iceland  publishes more books per capita than any other country, most of which are sold from September to November, hence the literary flood.

I must admit that I am telling you about this for two reasons. First, of course, is that I’d love for you to buy my book. But second, I like the idea that tonight, I won’t be the only person who gets into her jammies, crawls under the covers, and reads to his or her heart’s content, all while eating chocolate, guilt-free, for once.

So spread the cozy word! And happy holidays!

book flood

Bring Us Some Figgy Pudding

Have you ever really thought about the lyrics to We Wish You a Merry Christmas? The carolers demand figgy pudding, and say they won’t go until they get some. Granted, it used to be a tradition for carolers to be fed when they performed at rich people’s houses, but still, that’s a little pushy, don’t you think? Since this song is said to go back to at least the 1600’s, perhaps they were either the first peaceful protestors or the first terrorists. I don’t know about you, but I’d hand over that figgy pudding, if only to placate the caroling mob.

Incidentally, that link to the lyrics also provides a list of ingredients for figgy pudding, and frankly, I can see why one would get pushy for some. It sounds delicious.

Another delightful tradition has sprung up around this song here in Seattle. The first Friday in December each year, the city closes off several downtown streets and holds the Great Figgy Pudding Caroling competition. Groups of carolers spread out down the street for your entertainment, and they each have a donation box. You vote for your favorite carolers with your dollars, and that money goes to support the Pike Market Senior Center and Food Bank. The groups that earn the most then have a sing-off on the main stage.

This event is a great Christmas tradition, and an even better fundraiser. And since the people also visit the surrounding retailers, it benefits them as well. I highly recommend this type of event for your city. It gives you a sense of community, and an opportunity to enjoy the holiday decorations and the shopping, all while raising money for a good cause. You can’t beat that.

I plan to make Figgy Pudding one of my Seattle holiday traditions. Here are some of the pictures I took at the event. (Including Santa, and snow INSIDE the mall!)

Happy Holidays, everyone.

A book about gratitude is a gift that keeps on giving! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Nostalgia Food

About once a year, something will come over me and I’ll buy a can of sardines and eat them in one sitting. I don’t particularly like sardines. I don’t dislike them, either. It’s just that they remind me of my grandmother.

When I was little, not yet of school age, my mother would drop me off at my grandmother’s house before she went to work. She was in her 70’s. I wonder how she coped with caring for a small child day after day.

I do remember walking to the grocery store with her. I also remember being bored silly much of the time. And I remember her feeding me sardines, good Danish grandmother that she was.

It’s funny how food can transport you to another time and place. This is not the only nostalgia food that I eat. I’ve written before about my sister’s apple pie. And my recipe box is overflowing with recipes that my mother used to make. Mangoes transport me back to Mexico, and stroop wafels send me back to Holland.

When I was sick, my mother would give me ginger ale and ritz crackers. In the winter, since I was allergic to hot chocolate, she’d heat me up some apple cider and drop in a cinnamon stick. I’m old enough to remember a time when people still ate local foods only in season, so when the occasional orange would cross my path in Connecticut, it was an event. And as I’ve written before, I have a particular fondness for ice cream trucks.

Food does not just sustain us. It comforts us. It helps us maintain traditions. It defines families. It allows you to time travel. I’m adding sardines to my grocery list even as I write this.

sardines

Like this blog? Then you’ll LOVE this book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Floating Man Caves

On the day of this writing, I’m working on the South Park Bridge, which spans the Duwamish River from Seattle to Tukwila, Washington. It’s a beautiful day. As locals say, “the mountain is out,” which means I can see Mount Rainier on the horizon. (God, but I love my job.)

It must also be the start of fishing season, because the river is dotted with little boats, mostly occupied by Muckleshoot Indians, one assumes. This is part of their prime fishing grounds. What a pity that their shoreline views are now factories and their associated ugliness.

Other parts of the year, the Mulkleshoot stretch out their salmon nets and I get to watch the harbor seals rob them and boaters desperately try to avoid them. But at this time of the year, I love to watch the fishermen float along with the current in their groups of twos and threes, quietly casting their hooks in hopes of bounty.

I don’t see any women with them. At least not today. Floating man caves is what these are. A chance for some male bonding.

I have a theory about the division of labor along gender lines. I don’t honestly believe, for example, that most Muckleshoot think that women are incapable of fishing. It’s just that sometimes you just want your space. Sometimes you just want to be around people of your own gender identity. It’s like shucking off your work clothes and getting comfortable after a long day. It’s a chance to truly be yourself. Every human needs that, now and then.

I think it has been thus for centuries. The men tended to go one way and the women went the other, for pure sanity’s sake. And after a while it becomes tradition. And then it becomes an unwritten rule. And then it becomes shocking if someone wants to break that rule. That’s when it becomes sad, but also understandable.

Not that I agree with it, as I sit here doing my male-dominated job. I just get it. So have fun fishing, guys. Relax.

Three_men_in_silhouette_against_glassy_water_fishing_from_boat

Another great way to relax is to read a book. Check out mine. http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5