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.

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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.

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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!

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What Are You Known For?

Recently I overheard someone proudly say, “My grandma was known for making the best apple cobbler in the county.”

That got me thinking. Is everybody known for something? I believe they are, at least to the people who love them most. I’ve heard people described as the type that would give you the shirt off his back, or the strongest person I’ve ever met, or, on the opposite extreme, a massive jerk.

Do we know how people truly think of us, or how we are described by others? Well, I certainly don’t. So I decided to ask. I reached out to about two dozen friends and loved ones, and posed this question:

If everyone is known for something, what do you think I’m known for?

I decided to keep it that simple, and only elaborate if someone asked for clarification.

Most didn’t bother to respond. That disappointed me greatly, but that’s typical with any type of survey, formal or informal. Even that taught me a little bit about who will actually step up for me, or at the very least, who lacks concentration and/or is epically busy.

Of those that did respond, many came back with the easy, surface stuff. I’m known for being a bridgetender and a writer. Those who aren’t in touch with me as often mentioned that I’m known for being a fractal artist, even though I haven’t made a fractal in years.

Those were legitimate responses, and nothing to be ashamed of. But it made me realize how important it is to properly frame your question. What I was hoping for, really, was not what I’m known for by people in general, but how would you describe me to others? What has been your personal experience with me? What makes me unique in your eyes?

But there were those who delved deeper. One smart aleck said, “Epic farts.” But even he got more serious and went into more detail after a little bit of prompting. Here were some of the responses I received:

  • Supporting someone in need.

  • Makes me laugh.

  • You’re unique. A fair amount of women I just can’t “talk” to.

  • Loving.

  • You mean what you say. You tell it like it is.

  • An advocate for those you feel have no voice.

  • Brave, independent woman who takes no nonsense from nobody and loves her husband and dogs and job.

  • You care about right and wrong so much that your blood boils when you see what you believe is unjust.

  • Perception.

  • Delivering your opinion in a most enlightening way.

  • Integrity.

  • Curiosity.

  • You are adventuristic. A ‘seize the moment’ sort of person.

  • You appreciate the now.

  • Heart to heart sharings of intimate fears.

  • Your ineffable sexiness (this one made me blink, and blush.)

  • Candor.

  • Courage.

  • Compassion for animals.

  • Patience and persistence in pursuit of making a good life for yourself.

  • Reverence for the use of language to convey your insights.

Wow. Just… wow. These were wonderful observations. They certainly made me proud. They humbled me. Some of them were extremely unexpected. But I’ll take it.

This experiment also taught me a lot about how different my inner self is from my outer self. The two ways I’d describe myself were not mentioned by anyone. I would think that I’d be known for my intelligence and the fact that I have no filter whatsoever. But maybe I see myself that way because I use the intelligence as a suit of armor to hide behind, and I spend a great deal of time doing damage control for my lack of filter.

The bottom line is that I’m really glad I asked this question. I would recommend that everyone try this with their loved ones. The education you get from it, in ways both predictable and unexpected, is priceless.

Check out O
One of my copyrighted fractals.

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Birds of an Entirely Different Feather

When my niece and nephew were teenagers, their public high school did not allow kids to dye their hair different colors. This always struck me as absurd. How was it hurting anybody? That, and kids that age are seeking self-expression, so they can learn who they are. Take away healthy outlets for that instinct, and it may just come out in other, less desirable ways.

I have always been drawn to the unique. I am fascinated by people who march to the beat of a different drummer. And I have nothing but admiration for those who are different through no choice of their own, and yet still manage to cope, and even thrive, in a world where so many of us try so hard not to stand out. (I even blogged about a solid black penguin at one point.)

Recently, I heard a few other stories from the natural world that fascinated me.

The first was about a snake with three perfectly functional eyes discovered in Australia. The third eye was at the top of its head. I wonder what sight must have been like for this creature. I mean, we have depth perception because we have two eyes. What did it have?

And then, I was listening to Bird Note on NPR on my Friday morning commute, as I do every week, and I learned about leucism (Pronounced LUKE-ism.) Unlike Albinism, which results in a problem producing melanin, which causes white hair, fur, or feathers, and quite often pink skin and eyes, Leucism is a condition that prevents pigments from reaching some parts of the fur or feathers, but the eyes, lips, and beaks remain standard. Some animals with leucism have only patchy white spots. In others it is more evenly distributed, but quite often a washed out version of their coloring pattern will remain.

Bird Note, naturally, only discussed leucism in birds, but upon further reading, I’ve come to learn that it occurs in all sorts of other animals as well. Giraffes. Snakes, Squirrels. Buffalo. Fish. Lions and tigers and bears. (Oh, my!)

I think the reason I’m drawn to these special traits is that, while I look like your average person, I’ve spent my whole life feeling as though I was the odd person out. The fact that you can be odd and still live your life is encouraging to me.

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The Book of Our Lives

I was feeling a little nostalgic the other day, and decided to listen to Longer, by Dan Fogelberg. I love that song, and it’s been ages since I’ve heard it. I was particularly struck by one portion. “Through the years, as the fire starts to mellow, burning lines in the book of our lives, though the binding cracks and the pages start to yellow…”

What imagery. We all are writing books of our lives. No two books are the same.

Mine would say things like, “She went from a mansion to a tent in less than 3 weeks.” “After falling in love for the first time in Holland, she then moved to Mexico and had adventures while her heart broke into a million pieces.” “At the age of 49, she started life over by moving across the country to Seattle, a city where she knew no one.” “She published a book.” “She was married for the first time at age 53, and it was right and good that she waited, because she found the perfect person for her.”

No one in this world ever has, or ever will have, those same sentences written in the book of her life. Our books are precious, and we have a responsibility to make them as amazing as we possibly can.

In the process of writing our lives, we can follow our hearts, take chances, do our best to make the world a better place, or we can be cruel, heartless bullies. These are choices we can make. We can be forces for good or evil. We can help others or ruin them. There are so many plot twists that are possible.

And yes, if we’re lucky, we can live long enough to see our pages start to yellow. Hopefully we will be remembered after we are gone. But the fact is, our books are written mainly for us, and for the people that we love. And while centuries from now, most of our books may have crumbled to dust, the generations that follow will have started creating their own chapters, and perhaps they’ll have been influenced by the echoes of books past.

I hope you are writing the best book ever, dear reader.

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A Heaping Helping of Immortality

At the risk of sounding outrageously egotistical, if you know me or read this blog with any regularity, then you most likely think of me whenever you see a drawbridge. They’re rare enough, and most bridgetenders tend to keep a low profile, so yeah, I am rather rare myself.

I like the concept that even years from now, some poor shmuck will be stuck at an open bridge and will say to his or her passenger, “I used to read a blog by someone who opens a drawbridge…”

That’s the closest I’ll ever get (and indeed the closest I want to get) to immortality. Some people have kids. I blog. If you do anything unique that makes people think of you when you’re not present, then you have that immortality thing going on, too. Feels pretty cool, doesn’t it?

I also get a kick out of the idea that if you’re not thinking of me when you see a drawbridge, maybe you’re thinking of Vincent Van Gogh. Or both of us. For a split second, I get to stand beside an amazing artist. I’m honored.

Don’t worry, though. I’m not going to cut my ear off. I’m practically blind without my glasses.

Incidentally, if you are into drawbridges, please consider joining my Drawbridge Lovers group on Facebook!

van_gogh_-_die_brücke_von_langlois_in_arles1

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Calling All Seattle Area Musicians

One of the things I love about Seattle is it has this amazing ability to think outside the box. As a matter of fact, at times it’s like there’s no box at all. That can be a little scary, but also a little exciting.

Every once in a while, the city will have an artist in residence occupy the tower of one of our drawbridges. We’ve had writers in residence, and lighting artists in residence, and now the time has come for a musician in residence.

It’s fairly good money for a really unique and fascinating gig. Free space in a tower with an incredible view! That should get your creative juices flowing! If you’re a musician who lives within 100 miles of Seattle, you may want to check out the application process here. But hurry! The deadline is March 20th, 2018.

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What Makes You So Special?

In some cultures, humility is prized over self-esteem. I get that. In crowded or isolated places, getting along with others is more of a survival skill than feeling good about yourself will ever be.

But it breaks my heart to see how many people walk this earth without knowing just how special they are. Yeah. I’m talking to you. You’re special.

First of all, you’ve been given the gift of life. That’s amazing in and of itself. The odds were stacked against you. If the earth had been a little closer to the sun, or a little farther away, life wouldn’t exist. If gravity were a little stronger or a little weaker, life wouldn’t exist. If all that star stuff hadn’t come together in exactly the right combination, life wouldn’t exist.

On a more personal note, every one of your ancestors had to survive just long enough to meet and reproduce, for hundreds of generations, so that just the right sperm would meet up with just the right egg at just the right time for you to be you. What are the chances? You are a miracle. What a gift you are!

And every single one of us brings different qualities and skills to the table. I, for one, am grateful that there are musicians in this world. If I had to rely on my own talents for music, I would be suffering indeed. I’m also thrilled that there are people out there with a talent for science and math and cooking and building. We all serve a purpose. We all have value.

And we certainly aren’t all carbon copies of each other. Thank goodness! How boring would that be?

If you genuinely cannot answer the question “What makes you so special?” I strongly encourage you to ask your friends and loved ones. I guarantee you that they’ll know. Their answers may or may not surprise you, but it will be good information to have, if only as a reminder on those bad hair days that all of us suffer through every once in a while.

It’s also a good idea to be mindful that those around you may not be aware how amazing they are, either. Tell them. Remind them often. It costs you nothing but a few moments, and it will be priceless to the person to whom you give that gift.

Thank you, dear reader, for being you!

special
Tattoo this backwards on your forehead if need be.

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Time Passes

Here’s why I could never commit suicide: I know, for better or for worse, that I am not stuck in this present moment. Things will get better. Yeah, they might also get worse. But the point is, it’s all unbelievably temporary. Change is inevitable.

The reason I’ve been able to endure all this home buying and relocation stress is that I was able to keep telling myself that this time next month, then next week, then tomorrow…I’d be done with all of that. And sure enough, I am. Now it’s time to focus on unpacking stress. And while that sucks, too, at least I know everything is here. Somewhere. In some box or another. I forget where. But it’s here. Really. It is. It has to be.

The more life you live, the more you realize that the pendulum swings back and forth. If you don’t like the point in the arc that you are currently experiencing, just wait. You’ll be gone from there in no time.

That knowledge also makes me value the now. It feels all the more precious because it’s going to be gone in a flash. Sometimes I feel the need to stop dead in my tracks and just take everything in. Breathe the air. Feel the sun on my face. Watch and listen to everything that’s happening around me.

Every moment is as unique and fragile as a snowflake. Personally, I want to stick around for as long as I can, because the snowflakes of life are infinitely fascinating to me. It would be a shame to miss even one of them.

snowflake

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What is Cool?

I just saw a video of a woman who looks to be about my age. She’s playing the drums. That’s putting it mildly. She’s playing “Wipe Out.” She’s freakin’ rocking that song. I mean… damn. I want to be her best friend.

She’s not dressed cool. She’s wearing a pink golf shirt and some shorts. If you saw her in Walmart pushing a grocery cart, you wouldn’t think she was cool. But this woman is so cool it’s ridiculous.

What is cool, anyway? Someone called me cool the other day and I nearly choked on my tuna salad sandwich. Me? Cool? Hardly. I have spent most of my whole life feeling weird. I can’t imagine that anyone would want to emulate me. In fact, I wouldn’t advise it.

When I was young, I thought the Fonz was cool. Now I look at re-runs of Happy Days and I think he’s kind of silly at most. He was a loveable, leather-jacketed clown who reduced women to the worst versions of themselves.

Cool for me is unique, but not weird. It’s not about popularity, but yes, it’s often envied. It’s being confident about blazing your own trail. It’s about being so comfortable in your own skin that you don’t care what other people think.

Cool is that guy who shows up at that rally for Planned Parenthood. Cool is wearing a Hawaiian shirt over a sweatshirt in the dead of winter, simply because you like the shirt. Cool is that woman who spends her time raising an endangered species of butterfly because she can. Artists are almost always cool. And anyone on the Jamaican Bobsled Team is cool by default, in my opinion. I also happen to think that anyone who has invented something that makes the world a better place is way, way cool.

Cool is also standing for things when others don’t have the courage. That anonymous guy who stood in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square? Coolest. Person. Ever. I hope he survived.

Malala Yousafzai is cool because you secretly wish you were her. At least I do. She has a moral compass that never deviates. She lives a meaningful life.

The bottom line is that cool is hard to define. You just know it when you see it. Who do you think is cool?

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It’s Normal to be One of a Kind

Many of us, especially when we’re young, try desperately to “fit in”. We want to be like our peers. We don’t want to be an outcast or an oddball. It feels much safer to graze with the herd rather than blaze one’s own trail.

It’s also quite common for us to pigeonhole other people; fit them into nice, neat little cubby holes so we don’t have to make much effort to get to know them as individuals. If you’re that religion, you’re violent. If you’re that skin color, you’re lazy. If you are from that country, you can’t be trusted. (This is such a common habit that you most likely filled in the blanks regarding which religion, skin color or country I was referring to. Let that sink in for a minute, because it’s really sad.)

Here’s the problem with all of the above: We are all one of a kind. Unless you are an identical twin, no one on the planet has the exact same DNA that you have. And even twins have different life experiences, and that shapes them over time.

We have all lived different lives. We’ve seen different parts of the world. We’ve experienced different tragedies and triumphs. We’ve loved and lost and learned and laughed and cried, each in our own ways.

A very, very rough estimate tells me that the number of people born each second on this planet is about 2. So there might be someone in the world who was born the same second that you were. (Actually, by my admittedly rough calculation, one human is born every 0.576 seconds, so you may even have your second all to yourself. It could happen.) But the odds that you and your second-mate, if you have one, will both die at the same second, unless the whole world explodes, is pretty slim. So it’s safe to say that no one, no one will experience the exact same span of history that you will.

And then, if you start comparing favorite colors, career paths, place of birth, politics, and whether you prefer chunky peanut butter or smooth… well, you can just imagine what a rare individual you are! You are truly one of a kind. And I think that’s wonderful.

My question is, why are we so loathe to celebrate our differences, in spite of the overwhelming evidence that they exist?

Today, as you walk through your unique life, look at the people around you, and revel in their individuality. And take a moment to appreciate yourself for the miracle that you are. Vive la différence!

You are a gift!

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