Welcoming 2020

I’ve just eaten the traditional New Year’s lunch of collard greens with bacon, black eyed peas with ham, and cornbread. Supposedly this will bring a year of wealth, fortune, and prosperity.

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2019 was perhaps my most difficult year yet. Witnessing my Dad’s health decline, and his passing, was heartbreaking. Moving my Mom to Asheville, out of what she considered her forever home, was heartbreaking. Watching her cognitive struggle as Alzheimer’s progresses is heartbreaking. Grieving for a co-worker who passed; grieving for a friend’s spouse who passed. Grieving for the state of our nation and the hate that has rooted. It’s felt as though the year was overshadowed by loss.

And for all the grieving, and difficulties, and losses, there was incredible joy as well. I work with a team who are simply amazing. They are smart, compassionate, supportive, and bring a smile (and usually a guffaw) to my face every day. I visited friends in San Francisco multiple times. I celebrated milestone birthdays with friends I’ve know for decades. I witnessed the investiture of a dear friend onto the North Carolina Supreme Court. I visited Cape Cod for the first time (and ate my weight in lobster). I completed so many jigsaw puzzles (an activity which brings me overwhelming feelings of calm and peace). I completed a Sunday New York Times crossword without relying on any hints. I spent time in person with Mom several times each week. I celebrated EJI’s 30th anniversary and heard Bryan Stevenson speak in person. I saw Elton John in concert. I witnessed two dear friends get married in a stunning ceremony in the UK. I celebrated a bat mitzvah with dear friends who feel more like family. I welcomed many visitors to Asheville, making my cozy house feel more and more like home.

May 2020 be as joyful.

Lights and Words

I search for things that Mom will enjoy. Experiences that are relatively short and have a visual or musical element to them. Conversations can be hard. Crowds and loud noises can be upsetting. I saw an ad for “Winter Lights” and thought that could be a hit. The NC Arboretum strings thousands and thousands of Christmas lights on the trees and plants throughout the grounds. I asked Mom if she’d like to go, and she said, “Sure.” So tonight we bundled up and walked the grounds, oohing and aahing at the displays. We came to an area which, from a distance, I thought was a S’more making station, so I steered Mom that way (I have a soft spot for marshmallows). Once we got closer, we were informed it was a “wish station.” The volunteer encouraged us to write a wish on the tags provided, and then hang them from the trees. I asked Mom if she’d like to make a wish. “Sure,” she said and took a marker. She finished and I told her to choose a tree to hang it from. We hung it and I read the wish. “ThiNGs will Bette Nest year.” And my heart broke just a little. I want things to be better next year, too.

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We walked a little more, and found a bench in front of the centerpiece of the Winter Lights display, a tree made out of lights that changed patterns with each song that played. We sat, not talking, and watched the light patterns. “I like that one,” I said, when a multi-colored pattern appeared. “It looks like a Lite-Brite.” Mom looked and said, “Dad and I used to come here. We loved the lights.” Again, my heart broke just a little, as this was the first time either of us had visited Winter Lights. “Tell me about when you visited.” And she did, recalling imaginary visits, where they went, what they saw, what they loved. I listened quietly and when she stopped said, “That sounds really lovely.”

 

“WORSt YEAR IN MY LIFE”

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This is what I saw when we returned to Mom’s apartment tonight, stuck on the wall just to the right of the doorway. It was right below another post it note that read

“SADDIST Thanks GivviNG”

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I asked her to tell me about the notes. We sat on the couch, her head leaning on my shoulder. She whimpered and said that she just missed my Dad so much. That she didn’t understand why he had to die. And why he had to die so quickly. And that she felt completely lost without him. I held her tight, tears running down my cheeks, and said, “I know. I know.”

December Was A Whirlwind

Lots of visits with dear friends, some great music, and holiday spirit all around.

A Very Happy Easter

As I sat around the table, looking at so many people who I am incredibly lucky to have in my life, I wondered at what point traditions become traditions. I couldn’t think of any other way I’d like to spend Easter, even though it’s essentially a repeat of every year prior. I love spending it with my godson, and love the comfortableness that comes knowing there will always be lamb to eat, the egg game, and red eggs.

We start the evening with cocktails and everyone catches up with each other – who’s traveled where, how school is going, how jobs are going, what people’s plans are for the summer. Over dinner, there continues to be animated conversation, then after dinner (but before dessert) is the egg game. Each person chooses a plastic egg at random, and when it’s their turn, opens the egg, which contains a slip of paper with a question. The questions are meant to provoke answers that could be potentially humorous, potentially embarrassing. When the person answers the question there’s often banter from around the table, either in agreement or disagreement. My question this year was tame compared to some of the others – “What actor or actress creeps you out the most and why?” I’m not good with names, but it was the killer in No Country for Old Men. Whenever I see him, I can’t get that role out of my head. Questions that provoked great conversation this year were, “What was the worst thing someone overshared with you on a first date?”, “Would you rather not use your phone/computer/electronics for a week or not take a shower for a week?” and “What was the worst travel experience you’ve ever had?”

After dessert, we pass around a basket of hard-boiled eggs, all dyed a brilliant deep red. We pair up with the person next to us and position the eggs pointed end to pointed end. One person says, “Cristos anesti!” and the other replies “Alithos anesti!” and the first person taps the other person’s egg. One of the eggs cracks, and that person is out of the competition for the pointed end. You flip your eggs over, and do the same with the blunt end of the egg. As long as you have one end of your egg that isn’t cracked, you continue around the room, tapping eggs and exclaiming, “Cristos anesti!”

The night ends with hugs and kisses, and hopes of seeing each other soon. It’s the same every year. Despite that, or maybe because of that, it’s one of the holidays I treasure most.

A Lesson In Dyeing Eggs

I had Easter dinner with my godson, George, this year. My 18 year-old, getting ready to head off to college godson. I’ve always loved spending time with him, and this year I have sought out as many opportunities as possible, knowing that he’ll be off on a college campus next year. As we sat down to dinner, his dad mentioned that George had prepared the egg game on his own this year. The egg game is one we play on various occasions throughout the year, in which each person has a plastic egg with a crumpled up piece of paper inside. On the paper is a somewhat discussion provoking, somewhat awkward question. The person with the question answers, then other people at the table often share their own stories.

Clark, to my right, had the question, “What’s the most trouble you’ve ever gotten in?” After he answered, I thought about this. There have been the minor instances in which I was stopped by the police in a foreign country without my passport and ended up in jail for a few hours, as well as the times that I knew I was doing something wrong (ie underage drinking on a country road) and happened to get caught, but the time that stood out for me most vividly was a time when I truly didn’t intend to do anything wrong. And got in a surprising amount of trouble for it.

I probably was 8 or 9 years old. Maybe 7. My mother worked part-time, and my younger sister and I were often at home alone for a an hour or two after school each day until she came home. On Wednesday afternoons we had “Wonderful Wednesdays” at church, a time for social fellowship and a bible story or two. It was near Easter, and there was going to be an Easter egg hunt during the Wonderful Wednesday program at the church. I can’t remember if mom had not had a chance to dye Easter eggs, or if I thought we needed more. What I do remember is thinking I would be very helpful. I took the container of eggs out of the refrigerator, prepared the dye (mixing vinegar and food coloring, as I’d seen mom do each year), and dyed a dozen eggs. A neighbor picked up me and my  sister and took us to the church. I gave my basket of eggs to the leader to hide. The children played inside while the leaders hid the eggs we had all brought in the woods, in the grass, and around the building.

And then the hunt began. We ran in all directions, swinging our baskets and squealing with excitement when we found an egg. And then there was crying. And yelling. A little girl had picked up an egg rather forcefully and it had broken in her hand, raw yolk dripping all over her dress. A couple of other children had done the same. The leader was hollering, “Who brought these eggs? Who decided to play a prank and bring raw eggs? Everyone over here!”

We lined up and the leader continued to interrogate us. She focused her ire at the older children, the middle school and junior high students. “Who brought raw eggs?” I recognized the broken shells in my friends’ hands. I timidly said, while looking at the ground, “Maybe those are the eggs I brought.” The leader came closer and bent down so that her face was very close to mine. “What did you say?” I looked at her. “I think maybe those are my eggs. I think those are the eggs I brought. I didn’t know they would break. I didn’t know you were supposed to cook the eggs. I wasn’t trying to play a joke.” I simultaneously saw on the other children’s faces relief (they weren’t the object of interrogation anymore) and apprehension (what was going to happen to me). The rest of the afternoon was a blur. I wasn’t allowed to participate in any of the other activities and fully understood the meaning of reprimanded by the time the evening was over. My mother wasn’t very happy either.

In hindsight, I remember this story and laugh hysterically. Had I wanted to play a prank, this would have been a good one. I’m kind of surprised it hadn’t happened before. I learned how to boil eggs after that. From then on, however, I always brought plastic eggs filled with jelly beans to Easter egg hunts. Just to be on the safe side.

 

Christmas, a Little Bit Early

Since I’m flying back to California on Christmas Day, we celebrated Christmas a couple of days early with my sister and her family. Ashley told the children (ages 5 and 11) that we would open gifts after dinner. At breakfast, Zach, the older one, started the countdown to opening presents. “We’ll eat dinner at 5, and open presents by 5:30. That’s only 8 more hours.”

About 30 minutes later, “Is it time to open presents yet?” “Not yet.  Not until after dinner.” “Can we open just one gift now?”

I envisioned this repeating itself every 30 minutes, much like a Christmas version of the movie Groundhog Day, unless something was done.

“Hey! Let’s play a game! Let’s see how many fun things we can do today before it’s time to open presents. Ready? Let’s go!”

And that started our day of fun. Making reindeer out of styrofoam balls, yarn, and wobbly eyes. Riding bicycles in the driveway. Playing hopscotch (much harder to do in high-heeled boots than I remembered). Drawing chalk pictures on the driveway. Watching Toy Story 2. Dressing up as princesses (tiaras hurt if you wear them for too long). Playing dolls. Multiple board games. Eating candy canes (cherry flavored, not peppermint). Nerf basketball. A made-up game where the three of us threw a ball to each other, the object to see how long we could keep it up in the air, before someone yelled “Dance party!” and we all crazy danced to the song on the iPod. With occasional breaks for snacks.

And finally, it was almost dinner time. Almost. Ashley allowed them to open one present each before dinner. Zach chose a large box, which contained a sweatshirt. Hadley chose a small gift bag that contained an advent bag containing 24 small toys. I explained that I should have mailed the bag so that she could have opened one toy a day in the month before Christmas, but since I didn’t, she got to open all 24 at once. She squealed with delight. The 24 toys kept the two of them entertained until dinner was ready.

After dinner came the flurry of wrapping paper and ribbons being ripped off of presents, oohs and aahs, and donning of new bathrobes, slippers, and clothes. Building the gingerbread house, which stood long enough to take a picture before being devoured by little hands. Drawing with new art sets, playing more ball, dancing to new songs downloaded with iTune gift cards. Then, exhausted, but not wanting the day to be done, bed time.

Christmas Eve

My four-year old niece and I share a bedroom at my parent’s condo over the holidays. In our bedroom, there are two skylights. On Christmas Eve, after jammies are donned, teeth are brushed, and stories are read, we lay down to go to sleep. We watch the moon rise through the skylights as we prepare to fall asleep. She whispers, “Auntie Lori, Auntie Lori, we have to fall asleep now. Santa won’t come if we’re awake.” I reassure her that she is correct and rub her back, trying to get her to calm down and fall asleep.

I am almost asleep when she pokes me. “Yes?” I ask. “We have to fall asleep. Santa won’t come if we’re awake!” Excitement radiates from her little body. “You’re right, let’s go to sleep now.” This is repeated several times before she whisper screams, “AUNTIE LORI!” I am fully alert, worried something is wrong. She points to the skylights. “AUNTIE LORI! DO YOU SEE THE REINDEER PAW UP THERE? GO TO SLEEP NOW!”

And with that, she dozes off.