Celebrating Interfaith

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Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Accordingly we light the first purple candle.

Today is also the first night of Chanukah. We light the shamash and the first candle.

Tonight is also the anniversary of my mother’s death. It’s been seventeen years. Some days it still feels like yesterday. I’ve lit the yartzeit candle to commemorate the day.

So many things have come together tonight that it reminds me to be still, to meditate, to remember, and to wonder.

Candles. Interfaith. Advent. Chanukah. Yartzeit. (c)2021

We Give Thanks

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The Thanksgiving holiday is full of disharmony as we come to grips with our historic (and recent) treatment of the Native American peoples who were here before we arrived from Europe.

A few personal thoughts:

Growing up Jewish, this was always my favorite holiday. We didn’t need to explain our religious holidays and we weren’t excluded from the mainstream Christian holidays. This was an American holiday, one that everyone could participate in, both as a harvest holiday and as a day of gratitude. It brought our family together as well as allowing us to be a part of the greater family of our community.

This year comemorates the 400th anniversary of that traditional first Thanksgiving hosted by the Pilgrims who survived that first harsh winter. The basics of that first holiday, a gathering in gratitude brought two different communities together to share what each had. The helped each other and maintained a friendship against great odds. In modern days, we have much to be thankful for. I won’t list mine, but take a moment to reflect on your own blessings.

At mass this morning, we continued a tradition at my parish that I have always loved. Instead of a collection, we bring a bag of non-perishable food to the altar (for our food pantry and Christmas baskets), and at the end of mass, each family is given a small loaf of bread that has been blessed to share at our dinner table. We are called to pray and to break bread.

Give us this day, our daily bread…

(I apologize for the blurry picture) (c)2021

Last year while visiting Niagara Falls, New York, we learned of a nearby monument in Lewiston that commemorates the Tuscarora Indians coming to the rescue of American citizens during the War of 1812. The British invaded from Canada to the north and were mobilizing an attack on the village with their Indian allies. The Tuscarora, being outnumbered gave the appearance of greater numbers and were able to give the Lewiston families time to escape the inevitable horrors of death and watching their loved ones brutally murdered.

This monument is breathtaking in its emotion. The sculpted faces of both the mother and child fleeing and the Tuscarora helping them is so vivid, it tells the story in deeper and more profound ways than reading about it could ever do. I stood in awe of it for several minutes, even though it was pouring rain for much of the time.

Tuscarora Monument, Lewiston, NY. (c)2021
A closer look, Tuscarora Monument, Lewiston, NY. (c)2021

Enjoy the day with family and friends or alone, in peaceful quiet or boisterous noise, with turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce or whatever your family traditions call for.

Friday Food. July. Dessert Cups.

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I was eating a Dole fruit cup – cherry mixed fruit or something – and I was transported back to my childhood. We didn’t have the individual plastic cups like the one I was eating from. My mother would buy the cans of fruit cocktail, and we would most definitely fight over the cherries because there were never enough, and they really were the best part.

When we would have a special dinner – a holiday dinner – whether it was Thanksgiving or Rosh Hashanah or Passover, it didn’t matter which, there was always a multi-course meal with special dishes. Some meals like Rosh Hashanah would begin on the top plate with a piece of lettuce, a slice of tomato, and a scoop of chopped liver. There might also be a soup course – matzo ball – always a good choice, even on Thanksgiving. There also might be half a grapefruit with sprinkled sugar or a small dessert dish with fruit cocktail in it.

I loved those dessert dishes. They were small and squat and sat on little pedestals. They were perfect for fruit cocktail, jello, chocolate pudding (with whipped cream), and all sorts of interesting foods. The one problem I found as a kid was the texture of the dish. It wasn’t smooth so you could never scrape all the little bits of food left from the nooks and crannies, and they were annoying to wash, but I loved opening the cabinet just over the sink and seeing them, wondering what wondrous sweet treat they would next hold for us.

I still have them although they’re packed away in our basement. I wanted to find them last month for chocolate pudding, and then again to include a photo in this post, but our basement is a mess and in need of pruning. Finding them will be a goal for the next twelve months, but in the meantime I’ve included a photo I found of them from Ebay. We’ll see in the future if this photo that matches my memory will match the real ones when I find them.

Sometimes it’s not the food that’s nostalgic, but the containers we use.

Photo from Ebay. (c)2021

4th of July

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I’ve been thinking a lot about July 4th lately, as in several years lately. I grew up with patriotic parents. I don’t remember displayed flags, but the way they lived their lives and taught their children was certainly patriotic. I remember two incidences specifically. One, we were at a professional sports game (could have been baseball or football) and the National Anthem played. I eas expected to stand, and stand still. The second was at a school assembly. I was young, elementary age probably, and we stood for the Pledge of Allegiance. Kids are lazy, and they hop on one foot, and lean on the seat in front of them, and they kind of sit on the top of those seats that close when you stand up, and that was me. Not disrespectful in my mind, but bored. My father leaned down and very quietly, all the important stuff was spoken quietly, expressed to me, in no uncertain terms that I would be standing up, and stand up I did.

My father was a veteran. He didn’t choose to join the Army, but he went when called and through that we saw the power of duty and real allegiance.

I’ve always been interested in history and genealogy, My grandfather was from Canada. I loved that we were from Canada. I once said that we were part Canadian. Goodness, you’d’ve thought that I had spilled tomato sauce on a white couch. We. Are. American. Period. End of Discussion.

When I got my own house I decorated for July 4th. We even marched in a parade with our son’s day care center (although that might have been the Uncle Sam Parade), but still. Nothing extravagant, but a couple of flags, flag shirts for the kids.

When the former guy became President, we didn’t decorate. It wasn’t a conscious decision. With my depression in full force in the mid-2000s, I didn’t do much of any decorating even though I tried for some minimal effort. Even after I got into a recovery groove, I didn’t put up anything patriotic. I didn’t want to go for the fifty cent ice cream cones at the local shop for wearing red, white, and blue. I saw that 90% of the American flags I saw were accompanied by T**mp flags or co-opted into Q flags. It was dispiriting. After the November election I noticed that many of the houses that had T**mp flags had changed them to the Good Ole Stars and Stripes. They are not the same.

This year, though, as Memorial Day was approaching, I was reminded of sacrifice, of bravery. I listened to marginalized voices and remembered what many of us believe – that the potential for this country is vast, and it is still accessible.

I bought a set of bunting. It looked unbalanced, so I bought a second set. That made it better. I fastened them in place with American flags and I left my Black Lives Matter sign and added a Choose Love in June. In a couple of weeks, I will take it all down, perhaps leave one flag in place because I am a proud American. I want my kids to feel that pride, to listen to all the voices, to accept the past, much of which is only now coming to light. Being proud doesn’t mean being blind to our faults. We all have them.

It may seem as though I’ve only decorated because Joe Biden became President. I’d agree, partially. We bought our house in 2006, and for the following July 4th we put up some flags and two buntings. It looked spiffy – very patriotic. I mention this because in 2007, President Bush was president, so this isn’t about only decorating for a Democratic President. I will say that President Biden’s concern and care for this country and especially for its people was an unconscious impetus to want to show off my colors. I have a place to store these buntings and flags safely, and I’ll know where they are so they can go up again next summer, just in time for the next 4th of July. Maybe they’ll go up for Flag Day and Juneteenth next year.

Front View. (c)2021
Close up View. (c)2021

Juneteenth: A National Holiday

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Today is the first nationally recognized, federal holiday commemorating Juneteenth, the day two months after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, ending the Civil War despite some branches of the Confederate Army did not officially surrender until June. Juneteenth (originally known in some areas as Jubilee Day) had been commemorated in Texas officially since 1980, although celebrations had occured since 1866. Today’s holiday signed into law by President Joe Biden is called the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.

It is thought of by many as the Second Independence Day. According to Gladys L. Knight in the Juneteenth entry of the Encyclopedia of African American Popular Culture, Juneteenth is the “longest-running African American holiday.”

As the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and the Fourteenth recognizes the enslaved population as United States citizens, Juneteenth is equally important to their descendants. I firmly believe that all of us should be celebrating and commemorating Juneteenth the way we celebrate the 4th of July. The 4th commemorates our independence from the British, and Juneteenth commemorates those not included at that time despite their long standing contributions to the country’s advancement.

I see some controversy online and in the week’s news that Juneteenth is meant to replace July 4th and we should be “offended” by its declaration. That is not the case at all, and we should not let pettiness and bigotry get in the way of knowing our own history.

It is not anymore reasonable than suggesting that September 11th replaced our commemoration of Pearl Harbor Day. Or that Memorial, Veterans’, and Armed Forces Days are interchangeable. Each one represents a different aspect of our country’s past and observes its tragedy and its renewed purpose.

There is plenty of room in our calendars and our communities to commemorate the day that all of those enslaved Africans were free and became American citizens by virtue of their birth.

Take some time today to think about what the holiday represents, how meaningful it is, not only to African Americans, but to all Americans who value freedom and liberty.

For those who think we have too many holidays, and wonder: who’s next? I have a suggestion for you. Perhaps we should find a way to commemorate the first Americans, the Native Americans, those who cared for the land and lived valuable lives before the Europeans came to their continent and disrupted them, to put it mildly.

We, as a country have a lot to think about, and those thoughts and future decisions shouldn’t feel threatening to anyone in this country.

When I was growing up, it was a world of embracing the melting pot and the encouragement of learning the cultures that surround us in our lives, that aren’t our own, learning about our differences and relishing in how much we are alike.

We should all be able to celebrate African American freedom and the abolition of slavery. We should all want to celebrate that. What is there for us to celebrate that is more important than that?

Halloween or Hallowon’t

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Halloween during a pandemic. Well, at least everyone’s already wearing masks, right? My kids are in high school, so it’s less of an issue for us. They’re planning on going to friends’ houses and celebrating with a party instead of traditional trick or treating. They’ve already been hanging out with these friends since summer, so it’s equally safe as doing homework together.

On my neighborhood Facebook group, there have been some questions about neighborhood plans as well as some suggestions. One neighbor wants to do treat bags on a table at the end of the driveway, and limit trick or treating to certain hours – from five until eight. I thought that seemed reasonable.

Another thought was of a scavenger hunt with houses providing clues to their kids to find candy. The parents would do all the work and the neighbors who participated would volunteer so the kids weren’t randomly going to people’s houses who had no idea what was going on. I thought this was a great idea.

We usually have a bucket of toys and comic books in addition to candy, so the kids can choose which treat they prefer. They toys are the kind you get from McDonald’s Happy Meals or similar small items. Some are packaged, but some are gently used. We’ve decided to suspend this practice until next year (hopefully). I know our items are safe, but why put the parents in the position of having to say no to a toy if they have (legitimate) concerns.

I also thought that instead of having the kids reach into our candy bowl and choose their preference, we would have more of the same candies and hand it out ourselves. Two candies per child. We can wear gloves and put it right into their basket or bag.

I know some doctors and experts have talked about avoiding family during the holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, which are closer than we think they are. We haven’t decided our holiday plans, but I also think that Halloween is a different circumstance. I don’t mean it’s more important than our traditional family holidays, but in some ways it kind of is. It’s fun. It’s dressing up. It’s candy. And it can be done in a responsible and socially distant way. Kids can come to the door one or two at a time. The candy givers can wear masks and gloves. There’s no hugging, shaking hands, sitting around a table talking and eating.

To be honest, it really sounds a lot easier.

Maybe we can have a Halloween inspired Thanksgiving. Drive thru. Go to Grandma’s house and she’ll give everyone a Tupperware filled with a portioned out turkey dinner. Same with Christmas; just add presents to the drive thru lane.

I don’t know. I’m still working on that one. In the meantime, let’s enjoy Halloween as best as we can. Teach our kids that we need to make some changes this year to keep everyone safe, and we can do that and still have fun. I’m planning on dressing up as a postal carrier if I can find my parents’ old work shirts.

We’ll find out in one week.

What are your plans for Halloween? Do you have any suggestions for making it fun and safe for kids in this unusual year?

Hen Galan

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Today marks the celebration of Hen Galan or the Welsh New Year. This has been celebrated in Wales on 13 January since 1752 when Pope Gregory XIII changed the calendar from the Julian one, making the new year begin on January 1st. This is the Gregorian calendar which we use today. At that time, many people believed that losing those eleven days from the calendar coincided with losing those eleven days from their lives.

The village of Cwn Gwaun continues to celebrate this holiday in modern times. If the day falls on a weekday, school is closed. The town gathers with each other, in houses or more likely in the pub in town. It’s festive, filled with fun and feasting in celebration. Children go door-to-door or farm-to-farm around the valley parish (about 18 miles) singing traditional Welsh songs and receiving calennig from the grown-ups, sweets or money. It was like having two Christmases.

Enjoy the following links and Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!

Hen Galan: Welsh village celebrates new year on 13 January (first published 2019)

The tiny Welsh village that celebrates New Year’s Eve on this night every year: In Cwn Gwaun they party like it’s 1699! (first published 2018)

Gwaun Valley children mark old New Year (first published 2012)

Snowdon Mountains, North Wales. (c)2020

Inspire. January.

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New Computer. New Calendar. New Creativity. (c)2020

What you do today can improve all your tomorrows.

– Ralph Marston

Getting Through the Holiday Letdown

Nothing in our lives is perfect; nor should it be. No matter how wonderful the holidays are, I feel as though there is still some underlying disappointment. Since Halloween, we’ve been rush-rush-rushing to get everything done: Thanksgiving travel and dinner, cleaning our houses to some perceived perfection for house guests or just answering the door to the mail carrier, who I just realized I never gave a Christmas gift to. *facepalm* We’re shopping, wrapping presents, trying not to eat out too much but not having time to cook, putting up the tree, finding (or not finding) the boxes of ornaments, planning the menu, remembering what times the religious services are, finding the mismatched candles for the menorah and like every other Jewish family across the world, laying down a strip of aluminum foil to catch the wax drippings. When Christmas dinner is over and the dishes are put away, we barely have time to breathe before the year ends, and a new one begins. Will there be parties? Work? Sleep? There will be food, but what kind and how much effort? Or is that just me?

Did I mention that my daughter’s birthday is at the end of the week?

What are some ways that you deal with the holiday letdown and prepare for the excitement and anticipation of the new year? Comment with your best advice. Here are a few of my own:

1. Breathe. I know I said it last week, but it’s true. Breathing is essential. Slowing down, counting to ten (or twenty or one hundred) and breathe. In through your nose; out through your mouth. You can do it; I know you can.

2. Journal. Even if you’re not typically a journal keeper, get a cheap notebook for the next couple of weeks, and write it down. Write down your feelings. Write down a list of what you need to do. For me, if it’s not on a list, it won’t be remembered.

3. Doodle. If you’re not a journaler, doodle in the margins like you did in school. Stick figures. Hearts. Circles, squares, triangles, and more circles. Trees and flowers. Mindless doodling.

4. Water. Have a tall, cool glass of water. It will make your whole body feel better.

5. Music. Listen to something you love. My two go-to’s for getting lost in the sound are the Patrick Doyle’s Henry V soundtrack from the 1989 movie and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. Equally engrossing at loud or soft volume. It pulls me in and keeps me there.

6. Read. Read something new. Read something you love. If I haven’t already, I’ll share my 2019 books to offer what I read and what I recommend.

7. Relax. I do not mean this in that condescending way that people often advise you. I speak from where you are because I’m there right now and have been there before. Take a minute. Most of what we’re worrying and stressing about aren’t as big as we think they are. Step back, relax, and the keep moving forward.

Happy New Year!

Happy Holidays!

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This won’t publish until tomorrow morning, but as I write this it is many things for many people today: it’s the day after Christmas, which makes it the First Day of Christmas. It is also the fifth night of Chanukah. It is Boxing Day. It is the first day of Kwanzaa. Please add your holidays in the comments, and I can add them to my yearly calendar for next year.

I had so many intentions for writing and publishing last week, and part of the week before, including a a reflection on gratitude, a short commentary on something my priest said during a homily about everyday is Thanksgiving or at least the opportunity for thanksgiving, the emotional legacy I feel for the new Star Wars movie as well as something Supernatural finale related, holiday photos of our family’s menorah and Christmas tree as well as other shared instagram-type posts. The one thing I really tried to get done was a special Mental Health Monday before Christmas with ways to avoid holiday stress.

Instead of writing about it, and offering some advice I decided to take my unwritten as of yet advice, and not worry about writing and posting (among a few household things). For one thing, every time I looked at my ever increasing list of writing projects, I blanked. I closed the computer or the Kindle, and I walked away. There were presents to be wrapped, cards to be mailed (which had its own special stress for the lateness that they were received by me and losing my address book), our tree wasn’t up yet, our stove wasn’t working and I wasn’t sure how we were going to prepare Christmas dinner*. I tried to write to avoid the stress of the holidays that were on a timeline, and in making an editorial timeline at this time was really stressing me out. Each time I postponed a day’s planned posting, it increased my stress. And this isn’t why I write. While there is good and valuable stress that comes with my writing choices, this last week and some days was truly giving me bad, debilitating stress.

Once I made the decision to not write until after Christmas Day I felt as though a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

There are six days left to this year, and it’s been quite a year. It is not only a year ending, but an entire decade. It’s kind of a big deal. I will write again before the New Year and then after as I discover which direction I want to travel in with my writing.

My advice for the rest of this week is:

SLOW DOWN.
BREATHE.
TAKE TIME FOR YOU. If you’re working, spend your break times eating, hydrating, meditating, reading or whatever it is that you do for you. At home, take time for you. You’ve worked hard all year; take a little time for yourself.

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Kwanzaa, and have a Blessed and Peaceful upcoming New Year.

*A quick note on these things:

The presents got wrapped.

The cards we ordered from an online photo card store didn’t come, but we did receive another family’s cards. It took a little longer to get our own cards, but we did. No big deal, and an unavoidable delay. I sent the cards out in waves, and it turned out all good.

I found my address book that has ALL of my addresses.

We got our tree and lights up. My son put his Santa hat on the top, and it looks very cute.

Our oven hasn’t worked for months and we are buying a new stove. Unfortunately, it won’t be delivered until the weekend. (My son is already planning on baking a pizza the first night!) Fortunately, a generous friend offered us her countertop convection oven, and Christmas dinner was saved!

It all works out in the end, doesn’t it.