Looking Forward to the Winter Solstice

Above photo: https://isthmus.com/arts/three-ways-to-celebrate-winter-solstice/

The winter solstice is the great turning point of the year. From time immemorial, people of the northern latitudes regarded this coldest and darkest time of the year with mingled foreboding and expectancy, for the longest night of the year was also the uncertain threshold of return towards the year’s fullness, when green things would grow again and life would be sustained. People felt a responsibility to participate in regenerative rituals to ensure the sun would wax again. Bonfires and candles, with their imitative magic, helped fortify the waning sun and ward off the spirits of darkness. These symbols live in our modern seasonal customs: the candles of Hanukkah and Christmas are kin to the fiery rites of old, which celebrated the miracle of earth’s renewal. © 2018 Paul Winter Site by Kay Friday

Lately, it’s been pretty dark and gloomy lately here on LI. I try to ignore the weather at this time of year and do things that will keep me cheerful. In less than a week it will be time to celebrate the Winter Solstice. December 21 is the shortest day and longest night of the year.  My daughter (who suffers from SAD…seasonal affective disorder) really looks forward to it because from that day forward the days begin to get longer, so for her, there’s HOPE.

Today after trying to keep up with Christmas preparations,  I announced that from hereon  I am going to stop celebrating the usual holidays and focus on the Winter Solstice.  The idea of it has always appealed to me ever since I first learned about it approximately 25 years ago.  I was home alone (my husband worked nights at the time) and I listened to the entirety of a radio broadcast on NPR that focused on the celebration of the Winter Solstice complete with a history of the occasion. I was spellbound.  The idea of there being revelry on the darkest night of the year really appealed to me.  I am fascinated by pagan rituals and how they continue to be celebrated.

New York offers a very amazing Winter Solstice celebration each year at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Created by Paul Winter and the Consort, (he is a tenor saxophonist who  plays throughout the performance), it is a celebration of night, of light, of music, and magic.  Each year there is a different theme and musical guests.  The first time my family attended, perhaps ten years ago, we were hooked.  Until now I have never found anything quite like it. //solsticeconcert.com/wintersolstice/

This year we will be attending Revels in Boston. We will be visiting my son’s in-laws for the first time at their home, and our first night will include the Revels and dinner in Boston. I am very excited to learn about a new (for us) Winter Solstice celebration and am eager to compare this one with the one I am familiar with in NY. Having said that, I know it will be unique and special in its own way.

So next year, I informed the family, we will gather evergreen branches in the woods, make animal spirit masks, make sure everyone has a drum or another instrument of choice and light a big bonfire. This is all a dream, of course, but it’s my idea of a carefree, stress free winter celebration…with some gloog of course to keep us warm.  I think the ancients really knew what they were doing when it comes to winter celebrations! Won’t you join us?

Photo: Courtesy of Eric Michael Tollefson/BANGOR DAILY NEWS

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Slowing Down the Holidays

This year we are doing something special for the holidays. We’ll be spending much of Christmas week visiting my daughter in law’s parents in Boston. She and my son are expecting their first child in April, so in many ways this is probably the beginning of other changes in our customary life.

With all that in mind, I was really looking forward to cutting back on all the stuff we usually do for the holidays. After preparing for days before Thanksgiving and then getting sick that night, I wanted to take a different approach, preferably one that wouldn’t be so exhausting.

My first plan was to ditch the big Christmas tree and get a very small one just for ourselves. After all we’d be gone most of the week at Christmas. Well, that idea didn’t last long because my son insisted we get a full sized tree. We compromised and got a medium sized one, but somehow that didn’t change at all the preparations for putting up the tree. All the boxes of Christmas paraphernalia still had to brought down from the attic and sorted through. My husband searched an hour for the silver garland we wrap around the tree. He still spent hours putting up the Christmas lights inside and outside.

I still have Christmas cards to send and I am slowly cleaning the house so it’s in good shape before we leave. Why bother? Because it’s no fun to come back to a topsy turvy house when you’ve been on the road for almost a week. And besides, I’m German. I can’t help myself. “Cleanliness is next to godliness” is the mantra I grew up with. Ugh.

There are still Christmas presents to buy. This requires hours of thought and in some cases searching for just the right gift. I spent hours last night on the internet looking for a weekender bag for my daughter in law that she could use for herself, or as a diaper bag if need be. I didn’t want the bag to scream “diaper bag” so I had to find one that would masquerade as one. In the wee hours of the morning I decided on a navy blue and white canvas bag which I had monogrammed in red with her initials. It would look “smart” I conjectured, and serve multiple uses.

However, in the middle of the night I had second thoughts and decided that I would not have the bag monogrammed after all. This would allow her to exchange the bag for something else she might prefer. I woke up early anticipating making the phone call to cancel the monogram. At 9am I called Lands End and…guess what? The bag had already been sent out! “Was it monogrammed” I asked, since the delivery instructions said an extra day or two would be needed for monogramming. “Yes, it was,” the sales person replied. “Oh well,” I replied. Disappointed, I adjusted my thoughts about it all and decided “It is what it is!” (I hate that expression, don’t you?)

The living room now looks like a bomb hit it with all the Christmas decoration boxes strewn everywhere; my curtains which I ironed a few days ago are still draped across the living room sofa; the cards still need to be written and mailed; and I still have a few presents to get. I DO NOT have to prepare for Christmas dinner which is a huge relief, and the house does not have to be whistle clean for guests like it was last year. But my daughter and did spend hours and hours searching for a suitable Airbnb for our family visit in Boston. Oh, and did I mention, my husband and I have been car shopping the past week because one of our PT Cruisers is not reliable to drive anymore.

My stress-free Christmas is turning out to be just another variation on the usual Christmas insanity. Next year there will be a new baby in the mix. Hopefully that will make it all worthwhile. What are you doing to reduce stress for your holidays?

Not Too Old to Learn New Tricks

“Clickbait” is an Internet slang term for online media or news content with sensationalist headlines that are produced by websites for the sole purpose of accumulating page views to generate advertising revenue. It is typically used as a pejorative for viral media and stories that spread through social networking sites despite their perceived lack of depth, quality, authenticity or accuracy.”  https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/clickbait

When I retired from teaching about four years ago I felt pretty confident about my command of a limited repertoire of computer skills. I knew, however, that there was lots more I didn’t know. In retirement I have had a fairly active email life and of necessity I have just begun to be able to text. My son just told me he was proud of how fast I’d learned about emojis and how adept I’d become at using them!

Other than texting, my technical skills really haven’t expanded much. I was able to create my own WordPress blog and have been blogging now for three years, once a week, on a site for teachers. When anything goes wrong with WordPress it causes me enormous frustration and I am miserable for days until I figure out how to fix what went wrong. But I have made a new discovery which I fear will become a dreadful habit; in truth, it already has.

Just before I go to bed, when the household quiets down and I am often the only one still up, I check my email. That was ok until I began clicking on the distracting news and entertainment stories filling up the screen. Now what was a five-minute ritual before bedtime sometimes becomes a 30 to 60 minute side trip through the junk available on the Internet. My daughter caught me doing it one night and said, “Mom, are you responding to click bait?”

In the month or so since I began my click-bait journey  I have learned about so many things I once knew nothing about. For example recently I read a fairly long story about a middle-aged man who has devoted his life to saving lions who can no longer be returned to the wild. I am deathly afraid of large cats, so I was glued to the screen as I saw him lying in their cages with them, stroking their heads and they in return wrapping their shovel-sized paws around his body and licking his face. I know intimate stories about politicians and movie stars who I normally don’t even care about. Do I want to know the source of tension between Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle? You bet I do!

Before I retired the thing I most looked forward to was being able to read the NY Times at leisure with a cup of coffee. I still do this every day and feel pride in keeping myself well informed about global business, politics, social issues and so on. But what is this sudden fascination with things and people I attach no importance to? I am a fairly busy person so it’s not usually a matter of having too much time on my hands. This is a very new, very bad habit that has made me realize why I hear so many inane comments in public. This flood of pseudo information is taking the place of having real conversations about things that really do matter; it is much easier to absorb this junk than to search out real facts and information and come to grips with what it all means.

I must get a grip and go cold turkey tonight.  Meanwhile, I’m dying to know, what is your dirty little secret about using the Internet (please use discretion when responding)?

Wordpress Hell

I am not sure whether I’ll be posting tonight since I seem to have landed in WordPress Hell. I tried on my own to search for how to fix the problem but have spent hours to no avail.

Just a few minutes ago when I found the word “contact” somewhere (I don’t remember how I did), I was able to connect with a WordPress community helper who advised me to try a link he provided with my user name which had somehow been changed (probably by me without realizing it.) That link got me back into my original posting site. (Thank you so much Community Helper with whom I’ve now lost contact!)

So if I manage to get this published, I’m going to call it a day since I’ve been working on this since yesterday! This may be my shortest Slice ever!

Visiting Hawaii in the Bronx

This past weekend was our 39th wedding anniversary. I can’t believe it myself! We usually have a pretty low key celebration, but this year my husband surprised me when he said, “Why don’t we go to that Georgia O’Keefe in Hawaii exhibit you’ve had posted on the fridge all summer , and follow that up with a nice dinner at the Hudson Grill?” Both the exhibit and the restaurant are on the grounds of the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.

I didn’t hesitate to say “yes.” Our anniversary was the final day of the exhibit and I was ready to see some art. (Full disclosure: I’m always ready to see art!) The dinner venue also sounded appealing as we had eaten there at Christmas with our grown kids and everyone really enjoyed the meal and the setting.

So, off to the Bronx we went. Of course, this being New York, it couldn’t just be an unpremeditated trip because you never know what you will run into. This time our conflict turned out to be the “Tour de Bronx”…a first-time bicycle tour of the Bronx which  might possibly interfere with our drive by creating extra traffic and possibly road barriers. We decided to take a chance.

The final mile and a half of the drive was very challenging thanks to the Tour de Bronx. There were clumps of ordinary local people on all kinds of bikes making their way to the same destination as us.  Fortunately, the Botanical Garden is a big place, so the cyclists were channeled into a different part of the garden. As we creeped toward the entrance our car was surrounded on all sides by kids on bikes doing extreme wheelies while weaving in and out of traffic and circling around our car. Of course, no one was obeying any traffic rules. Welcome to the Bronx!

The first part of the exhibit was in the library, a bit of a stroll from where we entered the park.  I marveled at the classical building that is the library, complete with a bronzed statue of sea nymphs in a copper-clad  fountain.

There was once a “golden age” of architecture in New York City when all sorts of majestic statues and buildings were scattered throughout the boroughs, and most of them, surprisingly, are still in good shape. I think it’s impossible to see them all in a lifetime.

The actual O’Keefe exhibit was small. It consisted of 21 paintings O’Keefe executed while she spent nine weeks visiting Hawaii. She had accepted a commission from the Dole (formerly the Hawaiian) Pineapple Company to finish two paintings that could be used in advertisements in women’s magazines. Her husband,  famous photographer Alfred Steiglitz, did not want her to go and dismissed the idea of working commercially as very proletarian; but off she went and I’m so glad she did. She obviously became very enamored of the lava landscape, the plunging waterfalls, the pounding surf, the neon green mountains and, of course, the exotic, erotic flowers.

When my husband and I were first married,  O’Keefe was very much in vogue and we bought and framed one of her posters of a white trumpet flower on a green background.

We were delighted to find it included in the exhibit and we now realized its origins. Several of her paintings of the Hawaiian landscapes and flowers showed signs of techniques she would continue to use throughout her life, especially her time spent living in the Southwest. She is a genius at capturing the sexual nature of blooming flowers as well as creating colors that no one before her had ever used.

We sat for a while in a small rotunda set apart for a film about her time spent in Hawaii based on her actual words written in letters to Steigliz, narrated by Sigourney Weaver. The film featured  the old Hawaii of the Dole plantation days, dark-skinned dancers dressed in grass skirts, warmly greeting with exotic leis the few tourists who managed to make the journey  to Hawaii which was fairly arduous at that time. It had taken O’Keefe nine days to get there crossing the U.S. by train then taking a steamboat to Hawaii.

We spent too much time in the library leaving barely enough time to walk to the Hudson Grill. Sadly, we did not have enough time to visit the actual flowers in the Conservatory which I know I would have loved.

Dinner was delicious, our drinks…Autumn Falls…were amazing. As we walked slowly and quietly back to our car, passing the few flowers and bushes that were still blooming in the garden, we were both lost in our own thoughts about our special day.

It’s Finally Fall and It’s Good to Be Alive!

Fall has finally arrived in the Northeast.  After several months of soggy hot summer weather, and a slow start to Fall, the temperatures are beginning to drop, and so are the leaves. For people like me who hate heat and humidity, when Fall begins I start to feel like I’m coming back to life.

Four years ago, Fall began to take on new meaning for me.  In mid-October of 2014, after three months of visiting all kinds of specialists who were having difficulty making a diagnosis, I began treatment for a fourth-stage metastasized cancer “of unknown origin in the lymph nodes of my groin. Despite numerous biopsies no one was sure where the cancer had originated which made treating me a guessing game.  My oncologist finally decided, for various reasons, that it was probably originally cervical cancer and began the appropriate treatment.

During treatment I withdrew into a cocoon-like state; everything that happened around me was a blur. My treatments ended in mid-November.  In late January I had a PT Scan to determine the outcome of my treatment and was scheduled to see my radiologist a few days later for the results.  I remember those few days as a period of intense awareness of the fact that the results of the scan would determine my fate.

The morning of the appointment with the radiologist, I was awakened by my husband holding the telephone toward me.  It was my radiologist saying “I have good news. You are cancer free!”  I was stunned.  Of course I had hoped for good results but I never dared to hope for complete remission.  It took a few moments for her words to register. “You don’t have to come in today for your appointment,  but I’ll see you in a month for your next appointment.”

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That was four years ago and I’m still (as far as we know) cancer free.  I don’t think any surviving cancer patient ever believes they are entirely free from cancer; there’s always a little voice sitting on your shoulder whispering into your ear: “Don’t get too confident; this could come back at any time.”  I know this because I’ve talked about it with other survivors. I’ve also learned from them to welcome each day I am alive and to experience life one day at a time. It’s true that having cancer is a life-changing event.  I am more compassionate with others who are struggling with health issues; I am more forgiving of myself for not being able to do many of the things I once did with ease; I am less tolerant of those who complain with little cause; and I seek what will bring me joy.

I am fortunate that I had just retired when I received my cancer diagnosis, so I have had the luxury of time to learn how to live my life in a better way.  I am as busy as I ever was before I had cancer, but now I do more of what I choose to do and less of what I “should” do.  In the past three years I have traveled extensively, joined a delightful senior yoga group, volunteered for educational programs at the nearby Walt Whitman Birthplace site, participate monthly in a Great Books  Discussion Group at the local library, read every book I can get my hands on and take walks whenever I can, weather permitting.

Fall has become my season of renewal; I hope I will be around to enjoy it for many years to come.  With the birth of my first grandchild, due in about six months, I have a lot to look forward to and be thankful for. Life is a gift that keeps on giving.