The War on Christmas

I didn’t believe this was real. After saying, on Twitter, that I didn’t believe the War on Christmas COULD be real, I learned a lot. Maybe it’s an urban thing or a Southern thing, but there’s no war here in the Back-of-Beyond. It makes me very sad that people would believe what Fox and Offal say and weaponize something that is, intrinsically, so good. So, here is my stance on Christmas and religion in general.

There is, IMO, nothing more personal than an individual’s faith. I grew up in a church that stressed that each of us develop a relationship with a “personal savior.” I took that on face value. Of course, back in the day, I called that entity “Jesus” but it turned out that Jesus was just a way to say that which I still can’t say, don’t have words for. Moses and the bush? One of the funniest things I’ve ever read yet profound — “What’s your name?”

I am. That’s all you need to know.”

“Yeah, but what’s your NAME??? Those guys down there are not going to believe a thing I tell them without a footnote and a source.”

That bush was very wise. It knew that when you start naming God, you get wars. Oooops. I named him. My bad.

My town is in a very red part of Colorado, still the holiday banner across my street (a national highway) says, “Happy Holidays.” It goes up a few days before Thanksgiving and is meant to comprise ALL the wintery holidays. It faces west so anyone entering Monte Vista from that direction is greeted in this inclusive and gentle way. Most of the time this time of year people wish each other Merry Christmas, but often I hear “Happy Holidays.” I see no war on Christmas or anything else. The opposite.

Just now, as I was walking home from the golf course with Teddy, a delivery man leaned out of the open window of his van and said, with his whole heart and whole soul, “Merry Christmas!” and he waved. He wasn’t starting a fight. He was giving me the best he has on this day, Christmas Eve.

But, apparently, in some places, Merry Christmas is uttered as a provocation. I have thought about that. It seems that half of provocation is the willingness to be provoked. I think this is a war we — each of us — can choose not to fight.

As for me — Christmas begins at the beginning of December when my friend Lois comes to visit for all the holiday markets in the valley. This year I had the opportunity to read from the China book. That turned out to be a wonderful thing. I teeter through the month — bad days and good — but usually good. It’s impossible NOT to reflect on the past if you’re 67 years old and live by yourself. Impossible not to remember Christmases you shared with family that you loved and can never see again. I learned some time back just to surrender to whatever emotional rollercoaster shows up. That stragedy has proven to be a great way to live through the holidays. Every day for the past two weeks some lovely thing has happened as a result of my just being receptive and looking at it not only from the actual perspective, but also the metaphorical.

Yesterday, I took the skis to the golf course (I drive because the skis are awkward to carry and no one can walk in those boots). When I got out of Bella I saw a guy approaching that I know, Fred. Dusty loved Fred and Fred loved Dusty. Whenever we met, I let Dusty loose and he ran to Fred as if Fred were the realization of all Dusty’s dreams. I told Fred I’d lost Dusty this past year.

“He was a great dog,” said Fred. “Whenever he saw me, he hugged me.”

It’s true and Dusty didn’t hug anyone else. We shared some Dusty stories, reminisced about their first meeting on the golf course. Dusty was barking his head off, scary, at Fred. I said, “Do you like dogs?” Fred said he did, if they were friendly. Dusty didn’t seem friendly, but Fred held his ground while I let Dusty go. Fred spread his arms in welcome and Dusty ran some 50 yards and hugged Fred who hugged him back. Now Dusty was big. If he stood on his hind legs (which seldom happened) he was taller than I am, over five feet.

Fred and I remembered the first big snow last winter, in January, and how we were out there post-holing and Dusty almost knocked Fred over because the snow was so deep. Telling Fred about Dusty, I felt like the circle of Dusty’s life was now completely closed. It was a kind of memorial for my barky black dog that I still miss.

We talked about how we never see anyone else outside walking in the snow.

“What’s wrong with everybody?” I said. We laughed because, honestly, it’s kind of nasty out there. Today is the first day in two weeks the temperature has gotten up to freezing.

“It’s great here on the Valley floor,” he said. “It never warms up. The snow stays.” Both he and I think that’s a good thing. Then Fred said, “What are you doing for Christmas, going to family?”

I said I didn’t have a family anymore, or, rather, that I did, but I’m at the point in life when I can choose my family. “I have a great family, but we’re not related to each other.” I laughed.

“Thats the way to do it,” said Fred. But I could see he felt sorry for me. Fred’s Italian and, you know, la famiglia is everything. “You mean your parents and all your siblings are gone?”

“Yep.” Then I decided to tell him a little about my brother and how, after he died, many of his friends and I became acquainted and some are now family to me.

“Some people wouldn’t see it that way.”

“Yeah, well, I lost my dad when I was 20. I’ve had a long time to get used to it.” I laughed.

“And you’re happy.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Why not?”

“Lot’s of people wouldn’t be.”

“I miss my family,” I said, “But I’m glad for the times we had. They were precious. Anyway, how could I not be happy with those mountains,” I motioned toward the Sangres, “this sky, the snow, living here?”

“Lots of people can’t be happy.”

Somewhere down the road of my life I had decided that happiness is a choice, just like, for me, believing in “it who shall not be named (aka God)” is a choice. I chose that, too. I’m happy with anyone’s celebration. I’ve learned that people seem to need something when the days are at their shortest. I understand that I’m a little different in that for me this is the BEST time of year, dark and cold.

We talked a little more, he wanted me to remind him what I did before I moved here, then he said, “Merry Christmas!” whole-heartedly, warmly, sincerely.

“Merry Christmas to you, too!” I said, equally heart-filled. Is it possible to MEAN that without being a Christian? Absolutely. Its meaning is, simply, “I wish you all the good things, peace, joy, love and beauty.” Because that is what that little baby in the manger symbolizes, what we all hope for whatever faith or non-faith we follow.

Dusty and I in the Laguna Mountains of Southern California, Christmas 2012

SO, from Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog, Teddy Bear T. Dog and I…

Merry Christmas!

This Divisiveness Isn’t Fair

I’ve had a couple of intense political moments in the last few days. The first was the reading at the Rio Grande County Museum, the second at Safeway, one of the community meeting places in this small town.

Because my reading was pitched to and for veterans, there were three in attendance. I don’t know that book readings are usually a thing men get all jazzed about, but those three men were there and attentive. Two wore hats that proclaimed their veteran status, the branch in which they belonged and the war they were involved in.

Otherwise here, in a definite “flyover” area, you can bet that most voters will be conservative — and they are. The next county — Alamosa — tends to blue or purple. My county is staunchly red. My understanding of the people in my county is that they are old-time Republicans, but they continue voting Republican out of custom or because, generally speaking, locally, the old time style of Republican is still here. They’re not all Fox News fans, either. Some of them I know best are avid viewers of PBS. They are throwbacks to another time and another political philosophy.

My friend Lois tends to be liberal in her political views, more than I am. But we both despise Donald Trump and the Republicans in power who persecuted Obama with the birther BS and who stymie any good legislation coming out of the now Democrat controlled House. We think a lot of things are just palpably, objectively wrong — caging kids at the border of Mexico, for one; taking food stamps away from hungry people, for another. The list is pretty long. My bet is that many of the Republicans around me feel the same way.

Politics is kept under cover here for a couple of reasons. One is the old-fashioned belief that a person has a right to his/her free vote and opinions. You don’t ask anyone how they voted and you don’t judge them based on that. But, primarily because it’s a harsh place to live and we need each other. We know we don’t agree with everyone, but what’s the point of aggression because, when the chips are down, we might need help getting plowed out of our alley or a turkey for our family for Thanksgiving or a coach for a junior soccer team? When everything is said and done, whatever happens in Washington, we’re stuck with each other and we know it.

The intensity came when my friend Lois wrote about the experience of being in the company of all these kind, interested, aware people, one in particular, a man who happens to be a county commissioner. He was very affected by what I read somehow and I think it shook him up — I don’t know how or why.

My friend wrote this last night after she returned home.

I placed the first ornament on the tree this afternoon as Bette Midler sings the Christmas version of “From A Distance” in the background. Michael has cranked up the volume and sings along with all his heart. His voice cracks with emotion when the chorus comes around.

“God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us from a distance
From a distance you look like my friend
Even though we are at war
From a distance I just cannot comprehend
What all this fightings for”

My eyes tear up as he sings and I gaze at my new favorite ornament. This little painting was created by the loving hand of my Monte Vista sister. To me, it embodies the spirit of the San Luis Valley which is one of my favorite little pieces of Heaven.

This past weekend I met a handful of folks that came to listen to Martha’s book reading at the Del Norte Museum. They heard about the event from the local radio and newspaper. I enjoyed listening to the conversation after the event and the quickness in which a camaraderie was established. As the last cowboy (rancher/city councilman/preacher) was leaving, I bade him a hardy “Happy Holidays.”

He looked at me with an odd expression for a long second before turning to go. I wondered if he was disappointed that I didn’t say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” After all, he shook my hand at least three times in the course of the afternoon. Hadn’t we just engaged in lively conversation extolling the virtues of the valley and the people it contained?

It wasn’t until later in the evening in a conversation about political divides did it occur to me how both that cowboy and I might have misconstrued our parting. I was concerned that he thought my use of the word “holiday” was somehow a subtle attack on Christmas. Perhaps it was confusing to see me in my gingerbread Christmas sweater and Santa earrings not using the correct greeting to indicate I was on the “right team.”

Or it is just as likely that he wasn’t quite sure which exit to use to get to his car. His pause and odd expression might have had nothing to with me. Perhaps it was my own bias that lead to an erroneous conclusion. 

Politics be damned and all those talking heads that would keep us perpetually angry at those with differing opinions. I have to think that hanging a wreath on a barbed-wire fence under the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo mountains is something we could share regardless of our differences real or imagined. 

From a distance God is watching us. And I still don’t understand what all this fighting’s for. Just go hang a wreath where it is needed most. Put a bit of peanut butter and seed in the pinecones for the birds and some grain in the boughs for the deer. Let peace on Earth begin with me.

I responded that I didn’t think he thought anything at all about her saying “Happy Holidays.” People say that in the San Luis Valley all the time. I felt something in the afternoon had shaken him somehow, but I don’t know what.

But it made me think of how the news media and the words coming out of the fat orange man are designed to pit “us” against “them.” I don’t know — and have never encountered, even in California, anyone who was upset or offended hearing “Merry Christmas,” but Offal would have us think that gentle greeting is under assault by the “PC Liberals.” There have been times my Merry Christmas was met by “Happy Hanuka.” I just feel loved when that happens. Lois’ point about the “talking heads” keeping us “perpetually angry at those with differing opinions” is well taken. If we allow them to affect us that way, we’re the fools.

And then…

Today I was at Safeway and I saw an old man in a wheelchair. I thought I recognized him. He was looking hard at me, too. Finally, as I was leaving, I went to him and said, “Richard, is that you?”

He smiled his radiant smile. Richard Gottlieb (god’s love) is a WW II Veteran who fought in WW II in Italy. That’s not all he is. He was an Eagle Scout leader on a national scale, a hiker, mountaineer, volunteer at the Sand Dunes, his stories are fascinating and varied. When the war was over and he got liberty, his commanding officer said, “Go see Italy,” and gave him some money (as I recall the story). Richard, probably inspired by The Merchant of Venice, went to see the synagogue in Venice. That was the Italy he wanted to know.

The second time I met Richard — about a year after I moved here — he embarrassed me by saying, at dinner, “What a beautiful young woman.” I reminded him of that today. “It’s true,” he said. “You just have to look in the mirror.”

He told me he had recently lost his best friend to cancer. “I thought I’d go first,” he said. “The big C. He was young, only in his early 70s.” I expressed my sympathy, remembering how my own grandma stopped caring much about life when none of her old friends were around anymore.

We chatted about health. He said, “You’re getting around well,” remembering, I guess, when I wasn’t which would have been when we last met.

“I got a new hip last year,” I said. “That makes two. I’m amazed I don’t clank when I walk around.”

He laughed. He might be 94 but he’s very very sharp. “Hard for you at the airport.”

“Yeah, I tell them, they pull me out of line and embarrass me in front God and everyone.”

“Dividing us. That’s what they’re trying to do, set us against each other. Martha, that’s not what I fought for. It makes me so sad.”

Merry Christmas!

Scrooge crawled off this morning when I looked at photos of the step-grandkids on Christmas Eve opening presents I had sent them. I was hard pressed to do gifts this year, hard-pressed financially and emotionally, but I assembled a big box and the presents were set under their tree.

My step-daughter-in-law is German, and her tradition of Christmas is like that of my family’s. Open gifts on Christmas Eve. She has endured the custom tug-o-war with her husband’s mom, but reached the same compromise my mom did with her in-laws. Open some gifts on Christmas Eve. The rest on Christmas Day.

Last night the kids were taken for a walk around the neighborhood to look at Christmas lights, and the room with the tree was set up with the presents. The kids came back to a surprise Christmas wonderland, and opened only the presents sent by Oma Martha (that’s me). When I saw the photos of them wearing the caps knitted by my friend, E, my Grinch heart softened. Maybe that’s the whole point. ❤

Immigrants and Refugees

A long time ago in a faraway land known as Omaha, Nebraska, I went to a private school. I was in the 6th grade, studying Spanish and a member of the Spanish club along with my best friend, Mary N.

Christmas came around and the head of the foreign languages department, Dr. Espinosa (known as Dr. Halitosis because kids are both young and cruel) wanted to organize a Christmas music event for the Spanish Club of Omaha. What this meant was that we learned a lot of Christmas songs in Spanish, some just the usual carols and some songs from Spanish speaking countries.

The big night came and because Mary and I were the only two middle-schoolers in the group, we had to dress like the other girls who were in high school. It was the first time I wore nylons, and I had to borrow a red blazer. Middle schoolers wore sweaters.

My dad took me and dropped me off at the Spanish club, and Mary’s father volunteered to bring me home though Bellevue was NOT on the way from downtown Omaha where our school was located to Council Bluffs, Iowa where Mary lived. From there we’d ride the school bus to the Big Event.

My mom’s nylons felt creepy on my legs, that plus my mom felt that 11 year old girls should NOT wear nylons. They were also cold. It was December in Nebraska, damp, biting cold hit my essentially bare legs. Both Mary’s mom and my mom drew the line on heels. Neither of us were going to wear them. Dr. Espinosa accepted that. We didn’t really look like high school girls anyway, especially for 1963 which was a lot of bouffant and hairspray, blue eye-shadow and orange lips.

We arrived in an old building in downtown Omaha. We were ushered into a room which was filled with old people, all dressed up, women all in red lipstick. There was a table filled with cookies and punch. As it was 1963, people were also smoking. They sat in three or four rows. We assembled ourselves in front of them and Dr. Espinosa introduced us.

It was an interesting introduction because he didn’t just introduce us girls to the group of well-dressed old people, but he introduced them to us.

They were all refugees from the fascism of Generalissimo Franco’s regime. Our songs — especially those that came from Spain — meant a lot to the people sitting in that room.

The only one I remember is this one, “Arrurru, Arrurru.” As I remember, it’s a song from Mexico, one often sung during La Posada, a re-enactment of Mary and Joseph’s attempt to find a place to sleep.

We sang it much more slowly than this version, but I have no idea what’s the right way or wrong way to sing it or if there is even such a thing.

The people attending the concert that night were very touched by our music. One woman said, “Thank you for bringing a little bit of Spain to Omaha tonight. Bless you, girls.”

My friend and I were silly pre-teenagers, caught up in our own passions (hers was horses, mine was Lawrence of Arabia) but we got it.

It was an important experience for me, unforgettable (obviously). It was the first time I fully understood how people could be forced to leave a country they loved, a culture to which they belonged, because of politics.

Not that PBR

I’m sorry but what? My family? Two dogs. A couple of cousins in the wilds of Montana (one of whom flirts with me, very creepy) and a couple others here and there. Family is not all it’s cracked up to be. Some families are just fucked from the getgo. Some fall apart over time. This joyful holiday get-together-with-family BS is just an added pressure this time of year, and I’m at the point in life where I get to choose my “family.”

Last Christmas I spent with some of my chosen family in Colorado Springs. Providence brought me a sister not long after my brother Kirk died from alcoholism. “Here,” Providence said, “from Kirk.” We thank Kirk from time to time because without him dying we wouldn’t know each other. To learn about that, you can read my post on the Kindness of the Gods.

The Christmas Eve get-together of family and friends was hilarious and grim as only family Christmases can be. The “brother-in-law,” we’ll call him “M,” got drunk and spent the evening sitting on the “going to the basement” stairs of the split-level house my chosen sister (CS) had borrowed from her second brother (who was not there) because it had a dishwasher and more space than her house. Probably 30 people attended. I knew most of them, but didn’t get to talk to everyone. I was in a lot of pain from my hip and couldn’t stand for more than five or ten minutes, so I had to spend the party sitting on a comfy chair (“No, no, not the comfy chair!”)

My “son-like-thing” was depressed and mildly inebriated, in a bad relationship and lost in life. My nephew, one of the sweetest people on the planet, a developmentally disabled guy in his 30s, sat with me on a small sofa with his head on my shoulder staring at my tits. My CS’s oldest brother and his piece-of-work wife interviewed me about my education and credentials to see if I merited their attention and conversation. I passed, but that didn’t mean we had anything to say to each other.

After about a couple of hours, my CS noticed that “M” was MIA.

“He’s on the basement stairs. He’s been there all night.”
“Is he OK?”
“He doesn’t look so good.”
“I’ll take him home,” I said. I’d signed up for that job early in the day.

Some friends helped “M” to my car. No one knew if he (blind and arthritic and drunk) could walk on his own, and the thought of him falling was not to be borne. “I’ll meet you there,” said one of my CS’s friends who was there with her son and his new girlfriend. I was pretty stove up at the time, needing hip surgery and unable to easily climb stairs, so I wouldn’t have been able to help him into the house. We’d have sat in the car godnose how long.


“Great,” I said, relieved. On the way “home,” I dropped off my CS’s very pitiful ( 😦 )alcoholic musician friend, then took “M” home. The friends drove up, ready to help, but “M” was fine. He went in by himself, headed directly to the basement, his hangout, with the mini-fridge and the 20 pack of *PBRs.

“You going back to the party?” asked the friend.

I shook my head, thinking how amazing life is that even with everyone in my own dysfunctional blood family dead, I could still have a Christmas Eve like that. ❤


*PBR stands both for Professional Bull Riders and Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer.


I’m trying to figure out why I’m so depressed, and I’m hoping there is an external cause, like maybe it’s just the holidays. If there is no external cause, that sucks. Time will tell. 

I honestly have never liked Christmas. I’ve tried to like it. I’ve liked aspects of it. I have had some really nice Christmases in my life with beloved family and friends and even alone. I loved my Christmases in Zürich with my Swiss family. I loved my Christmases with my Montana aunts. I loved a very special Christmas when my stepson, Ben, and his wife, Sandi, brought German Christmas (Sandi is German) to my house in the mountains of CA on Christmas Eve. We took a hike in the afternoon to decorate a pine tree with bird seed. Sandi didn’t. know it had snowed in the mountains and that was the best Christmas present she could have gotten. That night we exchanged gifts and opened presents — that was the tradition in my family as well. With my family mostly gone at that point, I’d never expected to participate in that custom again. I could (and maybe should?) write a long list of happy Christmas memories. Maybe that would fix this, but I doubt it.

The closer it gets, the more I wish I could escape to a non-Christmas place. I’ve tried this year to just sample the meaningful things that have come my way — and I’ve enjoyed them — but it still seems to go on and on and on and on and on and on and on. 

When I was a kid, Christmas was happy if we went away. Otherwise, it was often horrible and maybe that’s why I dread it. One year (when I really really really really wanted a long flannel nightgown like the girls wore in Little Women) I bugged my mom about it (as kids do). Suddenly my mom said, “You only think about yourself. You never think about other people. Come here.” She grabbed my wrist rather brutally, sat me down hard in front of the Christmas tree and opened my presents. I kept my eyes closed, but really? I was 8. 

Usually I’ve gone away, but this year there is no money for that — $700 for car insurance, $400 for new tires, $150 for car registration all due in the last two months on top of a year that was filled with lots of expenses.

Any-hoo, in other somewhat less self-indulgent news, I made a Christmas ornament for a tree that a family puts up downtown in memory of their family members who have died. They write the family member’s names on ornaments and invite others to do the same. I lost my last two aunts in the last year. A dear friend of mine lost her two sons in a car crash 5 years ago and the lawsuit has (thankfully) just recently come to an end. Her son and his wife (who also died in the crash) were good friends of mine. Out of that disaster I “got” his mom who’s a very inspiring person, a fine artist, and a kind and vibrant soul who’s lived an adventurous life. I love her very much. My friend Lois always misses her mom and then there’s my brother about whom I have intensely mixed feelings but he’s still my bro. I decided to make a star and write their names on the points.

The dogs and I got in the car, drove the star down to the tree and then we went for a walk at the slough. Because Dusty is somewhat stove up, we couldn’t go far so we went to the place where I run into the Icky Man. He wasn’t there. We walked fast because I expected him to show up any time, but we were lucky. As we were driving away from the spot — already on the road — his truck passed us. Perfect timing and a great Christmas present since Dusty and Bear really had a lot of messages to read and leave. 

“I’m happy, Martha.”
“I’m glad, Dusty T. <3”

Christmas Presents

Dusty, Mindy, Bear and I made it home safely, driving over La Veta Pass, listening to punk and new wave Christmas songs. That was lovely. No traffic, either, no big trucks slowing things down and making people do stupid stuff like pass when they shouldn’t.

Christmas in Colorado Springs was beautiful in the way Christmas has of surprising us.

A little backstory. I spent six of the worst years of my life in that town as an adolescent. It was the darkest time of my family’s life. Soon after we moved there from six years in Nebraska where my dad worked for SAC, my dad got a terrible eye infection that signaled the beginning of a rapid decline from MS. Six years later he was dead. During those six years my mom, brother and I tried to grapple with our own rapidly changing lives and that immense sad change.

When I left Colorado Springs for good in 1972, I never, ever wanted to go back. But in 2004, I did go back to give a paper at the conference of the Interdisciplinary Society for the Study of Social Imagery. It happened that the room in which I gave my paper had a window overlooking the locus of a very happy memory of my time there. I began to think the town was trying to tell me something. When I returned in 2010 for my high school reunion, more of what someone might call “healing messages” came my way. In 2013 when I returned again to give a paper, I looked for houses and scattered my brother’s ashes. I came back in 2014 to give yet ANOTHER paper. I looked again at houses, but I wasn’t ready to buy. I had not retired; I did not know what my income would be. But, after looking at houses that day, I filed my retirement papers… Living in Colorado Springs was not to be. By the time I was able to retire, I could no longer afford a home there.

That turned out to be lucky break. I’d rather live in the San Luis Valley than anywhere else in this country. 🙂 ❤ I’m always happy to get to the west side of the pass and the sign that says, “You are entering the San Luis Valley.” It was right for me to find a new home, my own place, somewhere untinged and beautiful.

And, Colorado Springs remains haunted. The people I know have not moved far from “memory central.” Some are in the same neighborhood where my family first lived. A little part of me still dreads the city, but mixed with dread are beautiful memories that more and more involve people I know now. It’s good. It’s an enormous blessing to me.

I got presents this Christmas, really lovely ones, the best ones, the kind that show your friends know you. One very precious present is a set of paint brushes given me by my friend Lois’ husband, Michael. Michael got macular degeneration when he was very young, and lost his sight gradually over the years. That, in itself, is harsh, but to top that off, he was a painter. This morning in my Christmas stocking, I found his brushes, bound together with a rubber band.

Last night we were driving home from the amazing cocktail party my friend Lois put together and held at her brother’s house. The party was a true labor of love that took more than 24 hours to prepare.

As we were going home, I said to Michael, “I wish so much you could see.”

“I do too,” he said. “You know what we’d do if I could see? We’d have painting parties. Lois and I would come down and visit you in that beautiful valley, and we’d go outside some place and paint it. Have you ever done that?”

I wonder if, in the night, after our conversation, he played Santa with his brushes.

“I thought a real artist should be using them,” he said this morning. “They shouldn’t be lying around in a box. I bet you even know what to do with that Chinese brush.”

“I do,” I told him.

“I thought you would,” he said.

I will cherish them and not only because they are his; they’re great brushes!!

I know it’s all about giving, but this year, the giving of others has meant a lot to me. Up in that photo is homemade chokecherry/apple jelly (my favorite), Michael’s brushes, my new watercolor pencils — Swiss made and my favorite kind, a Sacajawea dollar with the Code Talkers on the back, and a sheep — a goofy, half-joking, memorial to Hellnarian memories of Iceland.

Thank you all my friends for such a wonderful Christmas. ❤

Quotidian Christmas Rant # 93

What’s the deal with Christmas? This past Saturday I was walking with the dogs and I felt, suddenly, like someone was hammering a hot railroad spike into the space above my right eye. Since the ONLY headaches I get are migraines, it was strange. I walked and thought, “Shake it off, Kennedy.” It actually did go away.

But not really.

By Monday my sinuses were more like a concrete truck than the brilliantly designed drainage system they’re supposed to be. I KNEW what it was. I have PLANS this week. I didn’t want a sinus infection (who ever wants one?). I just had one last summer. Two in one year? Where’s the justice in that? I called the doctor. No way to see her, but I could see the nurse practitioner late that afternoon. I went.

It was gorgeous out there in Del Norte, I have to say.

“Yeah, the sinuses on the right side are very inflamed.” So, I had correctly diagnosed myself. She sent out a prescription (we don’t have to carry them any more). I drove the 14 miles home, and stopped at the pharmacy that hides in a dark corner of the local IGA grocery a block from my house. The kind and friendly people who work there — and live here — took care of me. I came home with Zithromycin. I was hoping for a quick fix.

There is no quick fix. Not quick enough. I spent yesterday trying to prepare for the drive north that was to happen today, but I was and am so tired. One particular characteristic of a sinus infection is fatigue. I don’t know if it’s the infection or the problems breathing and getting less oxygen, but not even my brain was working right (shut up). I went to the vets to get meds for my dogs, put them in my pocket and when I started to leave, I went back thinking I’d forgotten the meds… Sigh.

Even Bear got the idea yesterday that things were not right with her person and didn’t harass me for a walk. I couldn’t have done it. I don’t think I can do it today. Maybe. But I did pack, I did get the car cleaned out. I did some stuff.

What is the deal? My mom used to bitch at me every year, “You always get sick at Christmas!” It’s kind of but not totally true. I probably get sick at lots of other times that are not printed in red numbers on the calendar so no one notices, days that didn’t affect anyone’s plans.

I have no calling this morning. I just have plans I  have to reconfigure because I honestly am too sleepy to drive.

Most of the time I wish Christmas didn’t exist. I don’t fear the dark of winter’s short days. I don’t think Jesus did, either, seeing as he was born in a place where the days stay pretty much the same length all year, AND where the dominant culture was busy celebrating Saturnalia which must have been pretty wild. I actually think that celebrating Christmas should be a personal and quiet thing considering Christmas doesn’t even mean the same thing to any two people.

I hate the flash and expense of consumerism, but I have noticed that stores starting the Christmas thing WAY in October means that by the time Christmas is actually about to arrive, the whole sparkly mess has lost its power by being around so long. For me, the best part of Christmas is making Christmas cards, but that got messed up this year because my aunt Dickie died right as I was involved in that. I didn’t write them all at once or check off names in my address book. I don’t know for sure to whom I sent cards! I also enjoyed drawing gift tags this year; that was really fun. Painting rocks was good. I enjoyed hearing The Messiah with my neighbors. But now? I just wish I wasn’t sick.

Thanks for listening to me whine.

Sweet Day

When I was teaching, I had almost no social life. I taught literally all the time. I taught writing which means hundreds of essays to read, correct and respond to. And, I taught seven classes. A full load for a tenured faculty member is four classes one semester, three the next. This means in a whole YEAR that person teaches as many classes as I taught in a semester. Usually they had grading assistants to help with their load. I had grading assistants two semesters in my entire 35+ year career. Seven classes means I normally taught three classes a day. My seventh class was usually on Saturday morning. I really didn’t have the time or inclination to get to know anyone.

When I moved away from California, I left virtually no friends behind except the one who, a year or two later, moved to Colorado Springs, and my wonderful neighbors who’d already moved to work and live on a ranch in Northern California.

Moving to Monte Vista changed my life in almost every way, but the desire to know people has been one of the best. I moved into a neighborhood and, in my neighborhood, I found friends.

Yesterday we got together for one of our infamous tea parties (but we had coffee). This was kind of special because it was on St. Lucia’s Day which, in my family, was always the first day of Christmas. It was the day we put up our tree. Sometimes my mother invited guests for dinner and she cooked Lutefisk of song and legend. She wasn’t Swedish, but my dad’s mom was. It was a huge event if that’s what happened.

Lutefisk is dried, salted whitefish that’s been preserved in lye. (Cue Viking music.) Lutefisk wasn’t easy to find, but my mom always managed to find it. It had to soak over night, transforming from a whiteish, silverish, grayish boardlike thing to a gelatinous mass. It was then boiled, served on boiled potatoes with a creamy white sauce that my grandmother made with real butter, my mom with margarine. Along with it we had lingonberries and potato sausage (yum). Sometimes Swedish rye bread.

My neighbor, K, is Swedish and last year we talked of a tea party on St. Lucia’s day, but I was very sick last year and it didn’t happen.

But it happened yesterday. My neighbor, E, made traditional Swedish saffron buns and I made Swedish fruit soup. Remembering that no Swede in my life EVER drank tea, I made coffee.

Our conversation went from cooking to memories to family to the future in the hands of upcoming generations (none-to-soon, IMO) to the sudden preponderance of complaints by women of sexual harassment. It’s a hot-button topic for me, not the most congenial subject, but there we were. Having been — most of the time — a single, working woman — I have had WAY too many experiences with it. When I complained to bosses, supervisors, I was NEVER believed. “He didn’t mean that,” was one response I got from a boss when a fellow teacher stood behind me while I was working on the shared computer in our office and said, “You know you want to stick your hand down my pants. Why don’t you?” He harassed another woman, too, and rather being reprimanded, he was told to get psychiatric help. Another case involved a fellow teacher who was on the tenure review committee when I was going for a tenured position. He made it very clear to me that if I didn’t “do him” I could forget tenure. I didn’t “do him” and I didn’t get tenure. When I complained, a supervising colleague believed me, but the Dean did not. These are just two stories of a long litany that left me thinking that some men (most men? all men?) will demonstrate dominance in whatever way they can whether it’s sexually or, as in the case of a boss at SDSU, by verbally abusing me in front of staff.

E seemed to think the “Me Too” movement would have an effect on changing the society. My take is that it’s human nature and that’s pretty hard to change, but maybe it would make people think twice. We didn’t reach a conclusion.

I don’t know. I am just grateful not to be on the road any more. Not to be walking into classrooms or called in by some boss who doesn’t understand what I do because he’s a system’s analyst and I’m a writing teacher. I love this valley with all my heart and soul. I like my neighbors very much and I’m grateful to have been dropped into this little nexus of kindness and old-fashioned values and manners. I don’t know the answer to the world’s problems, but I suspect more Swedish saffron buns, more fruit soup, more congenial conversations, more good neighbors, more generosity of heart and soul could fix a lot of things.