Defective Key Components

Since I don’t want to get bogged down in too much conversation about the holidays, let’s call this a public service announcement. Because when your Thanksgiving turkey goes in the trash and then a couple of days later you save your family from a could-be forrest fire in your very own living room, you share.

A week before Thanksgiving I ordered a turkey from Whole Foods. Not the fancy kind, just the generic-label, plain old, fresh from the factory 12-pound turkey. We picked it up, it looked and smelled normal, it cooked well, smelled delicious and looked beautiful. But it tasted horrible.

As Sir Husband carved it we could just tell something wasn’t right. The dark meat looked like duck, the white meat looked and felt like pork chops, and it tasted and now smelled like crap. Our free-range turkey must have gone wild we thought. Nope, turns out Whole Foods gave us the wrong kind. They gave us an heirloom/heritage.

What’s that? These domestic birds are specifically raised with historic characteristics, dating back to the Pilgrim Days. I don’t even want to know how or why. While I’m not a Butterball gal, I prefer the more modern flavor and texture. The moral of the story is this – if  you want your turkey to taste like turkey, you better check the label.

Now, picture this. It’s a misty and cold afternoon. Sir Husband and I pull into the local Amvets parking lot, where their Christmas tree fundraiser is in full swing. We grab a cup of hot chocolate, and we begin to weave in and out of the tree maze. Rows of perfectly-shaped, deep luscious green trees that look as if they were from a Christmas storybook forrest surround us. Not a Charlie Brown tree in sight, which is a slight shame, I’m a fan of the misfit tree.

We picked an affordable beauty, and they delivered it for free. The bottom was sawed, it fit in the water-filled stand, we put it in the living room window, and like a good steak, we let it rest. Call it intuition, or call it dumb luck, I knew something wasn’t right before we went to bed. The tree took in no water, and dropped a thick carpet of brown needles that mysteriously appeared out of nowhere.

I tossed and turned all night, I didn’t feel good about our beautiful tree. I know a lot of firemen, whose scary tales have stuck. This probably-should-be firewood tree was going back to the lot.

We explained to the very kind veterans that our tree was beyond dead upon arrival, and they quickly delivered us a tiny, perfectly-shaped new tree. Key word, tiny. But it’s fresh and safe, and that’s all that matters.

Here’s the PSA. Turn your chosen green tree upside down before you bring it home, if the inside needles are brown, pick again, you could prevent a living room forrest fire.

So, first the turkey, then the tree, and there are still 25 days to go. I didn’t even tell you what happened to the refrigerator…

Deck The Balls

They’re going up. Christmas decorations are starting to appear, and soon will multiply with force. Last year, one kind caught my eye. From the minute I saw them in people’s yards until the day they were gone, I admired and coveted Christmas balls.

No, not the shiny ornaments, but the big lighted spheres that hang in almost suspended-animation from trees and porches. I had never seen them before, and was enraptured.

They aren’t really called Christmas balls, they’re called star spheres. I don’t know if they are the latest fad in holiday decor, or if they are unique to our locale, but I was determined to have them. So I got them, right after Christmas last year in a half-price sale.

My family was thrilled, because now they would not hear the words “I want Christmas balls,” anymore, as these festive illuminated star spheres would finally hang in our yard.

Too bad I sold them before this Christmas rolled around.

The more I looked at them in their unopened boxes on the shelf in my basement, the more I wondered if these balls were for me. I thought about their reality. Where will I plug them in? I will have to drag a line of outdoor extension cords from the backyard plug, all the way around the house, through the yard and possibly snow, to the tree out front. Then what? I’ll have several extension cords hanging off the balls in the tree? And what about the electric bill?

Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas. I always have a wreath on the door, some garland along the porch, a well-lit tree in the living room and pretty white candles in every window, but maybe that’s enough.

So I broke down and put them on our local online yard sale. I was a bit pensive when I posted them, but one quick response caught my eye.

“Oh please pick me! Pick me!” it said. She was as eager as I was last year. And she’s actually a friend of mine, I had no idea she wanted lighted Christmas spheres. Not that this matters, but first of all, she’s Jewish. Christmas balls for Hanukkah?

When she came over to get them she was excited, and was actually wearing a silver necklace that had one round and sparkling ball charm on it, that looked almost exactly like the balls.

“I have wanted these for so long!” she said. It was like looking in a mirror.

“I know this is weird since I’m Jewish. My husband will think I’m crazy. But how nice will these look hanging on my porch!”

I looked at my holiday balls with some melancholy before we put them in her car. This was it, they were sold, and going.

“I love these balls, thank you so much for buying them and then selling them to me!” she said with glee. “But where will I plug them in?”

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Here is the question of the day.  Does dysfunction only rear its ugly head on a holiday? Or does it show up any old day?

At the risk of intimately sharing the lives of people I know, including my own, I will try to answer that. This Thanksgiving was tough. Not just for me, but for several people I know, some of whom who don’t even seem to have dysfunction in their lives.

And frankly I don’t get any of it. While dysfunction itself is somewhat uniquely defined in the eyes of the beholder, it’s safe to say that in this case, the meaning truly exemplifies the opposite of what we perceive a holiday to be about: love, joy, peace, happiness, smiling, relaxing, all sunshine and roses.

Perhaps nothing is ever as it appears, in television commercials, in movies, even in Facebook pictures. Because not everyone has the quintessentially happy, functional family. I wish I did, because frankly I’m sick of the alternative. The bullshit we have to live through is really getting tired. And it’s also very sad.

I stood at my kitchen sink just before serving Thanksgiving dinner and began to sob. I couldn’t help it. A couple of family members who were with us for the day spent the afternoon in a progressively downward spiral, landing in a meltdown. I held out as long as I could, before I couldn’t take it anymore. Sir Husband was a saint, and soothed the scene with finesse. But the whole event was heartbreaking. I went to bed in tears, and woke up the next day still in tears. I’ve had more than enough struggle in this lifetime.

And I know I’m not alone. I heard from several people about their own Thanksgiving fiascos, some resulting in emergency exits even before the meal. A good friend had to cut her family’s holiday getaway short, departing way ahead of schedule. My own step children texted me from afar asking if we could beam them up and out of where they were. Another friend simply avoided any drama, by not even attending her family gathering at all, thus not putting herself in a sticky situation. And that in and of itself is depressing.

Guest or host, the mental and physical efforts that go into preparing for any holiday is huge, the expectations equally so. We all want to enjoy the day, celebrate the occasion, relish some quality time and embrace a beautiful ambiance. But instead it can so easily turn into exhausting work, an unhappy celebration, a bitter ambiance, and a sorrowful and empty, even agonizing event.

Yet it never starts out that way does it.

Sir Husband’s question at the end of the day is different than mine. His is about holiday safety – not in the traditional sense of the word, but the emotional. How do we create a safety net that feels completely good? We have that in each other, but outside of that it’s iffy.

According to the masters of spirituality and text, we are supposed to have the safety net right inside of ourselves. That must take some serious evolution, because most people live in the gap between the soul sanctuary and human reality.

So the real question is, how do we enjoy ourselves in spite of it? Because I’m going with dysfunction is a part of life on any given day. Here’s hoping the survival safety net will arrive well before Christmas, because sadness is not on my list.

It’s A Done Deal

Here we are on day two of the Thanksgiving holiday, or it’s more common name, Black Friday. I checked, and the B in Black of this special day is actually capitalized according to the AP Stylebook. Same with Cyber Monday, capital C. But get this, the “happy” in happy Thanksgiving or happy holidays, is not capitalized. Sort of seems wrong.

Yet as sure as the day is long, I am sitting in the comfort of my own home, is open and my cart is full.

No, I’m not a crazy shopper who hits the stores hours before they open just to stand in line and hope I can get a cheap TV. My boys on the other hand are. From the moment they had their driver’s licenses they snuck out of the house before midnight, for what I’m not quite sure. But they always came home with fun stories, about moms with babies in strollers lined up outside of Coach, or pre-teens pushing them out of the way to get to a Pokemon game. That midnight scene is something.

Sir Husband is not a fan either, and fondly recalls his newspaper reporting days when he had to cover the parking lot mob scenes, the “campers” in lines that wrapped around Best Buy, the medical emergencies from fights to the finish for door buster deals. He hated it.

Which is why we shop from home.

But I’m not ready to pull the trigger on the Place Order button. What if the prices change and they go down as the day goes on? Are there better deals earlier or later? What about Cyber Monday? Do I wait three more days? Or do I just bite the bullet now and hope for the best?

That begged for some quick research to be sure I knew what I was doing. And interestingly, here’s what I found out.

Black Friday ranks number three as the busiest shopping day of the year, behind the Saturday before Christmas and the day after Christmas, in that order. And get this, more men than women participate in Black Friday.

It gained popularity in 2001, and was mis-named. The real meaning of Black Friday started in 1869 when the stock market crashed. That’s still the use to this day, if it crashes before the weekend, otherwise it means get stoked it’s time to Christmas shop.

But now this day-after-turkey day holiday is starting to lose its ground to Thanksgiving Thursday pre-deals, and Cyber Monday. Not to mention door busters-turned-mobile app or online only sales. Hard to keep up.

Lower end items like books, music and movies have the highest markdowns. Jewelry is only marked down a hefty 4 percent.  And JC Penney holds the top position for the most advertised discounts with the highest discount, at nearly 70 percent.

But for those of us who shop at home, this fact will matter the most. Buy quick online, or the deal will be gone, no matter the time of day. See it? Better buy it, before it’s too late.

Ok time to click Buy Now. The only problem with shopping online is that it’s easy to add to your cart for yourself…oh no, what if I’m not done shopping? By the way, that’s Done with a capital D.

An Afternoon Drive

In the blink of an eye, or about 18 miles, the scene around us changes, from historical, elegant New England coastal village to something entirely different. And the striking difference is notable.

I took my youngest to get his driver’s permit, and opted for a motor vehicle branch out of the nearby city because I needed to run an errand for a friend to a destination close to this particular branch, in what I thought was just the burbs.

We pulled off the highway and passed a busy strip mall, the registry only a mile beyond the plaza. We secured the permit, but it was when we ran the other errand that our eyes opened up.

A mile or so past the license branch, the road changed from four lanes to two, stoplights well behind us. We passed a small convenience mart, then the land began to sprawl. A dilapidated shack here, a lone horse there, mailboxes that seemingly belonged to no one dotted the road every so often.

We passed trailers on cinder blocks, and rusty cars without wheels sitting on dirt driveways. Toilets in yards alongside broken fences and messy piles of chopped wood sat randomly on sparse properties. Shabby signs dangled from porches or trees, advertising wares or services that must be needed by someone…chicken pot pies, eggs, repairs…of what we weren’t sure. We never saw a soul.

The sun was setting as we drove several miles along the rural highway, dusk appearing a bit eerie. We were returning a costume from my friend’s daughter’s school play, to a shop somewhere in this rural backwoods. We reached a small town of sorts, a handful of buildings leaning one way or another, many windows broken, and others simply boarded.

We passed a run-down, graffiti-covered church, a tired train-car diner, a tiny hair salon, and a hole-in-the-wall bar with t-shirts taped to the window. “Drink Moxie” the orange shirts said, turned sideways for effect. A closed-down factory loomed in the distance, the vivid descriptor of days gone by in this ghost town. We were actually a little creeped out.

But this is the scene that represents more of our state than the charming Norman Rockwell-esque coastline where we live. No one would know that if they are only here to vacation, this spot isn’t a tourist draw.

We found the odd costume shop in between vacant buildings on the tiny main street. Christmas music wafted from the front door, hundreds of Santa costumes hung in a row in the window, the dimly-lit store offering the only visible sign of life in the area. We dropped off the costume and headed back home, the rural highway still capturing our attention along the way, and begging the question, what comes first – money or happiness?

That’s not to say that the people are not happy here, but the change of scenery was so explicit between our shoreline community and those beyond some invisible fine line, it gave us pause for thought. While we are not well-off by any means, we don’t live in a setting like that. The reality of a rural and seemingly poor lifestyle and the trappings that must offer was apparent.

We hear about it in our local news, people who hunt for their winter’s supply of food, or who can’t afford dental care so go without their teeth. While it’s often portrayed as comical, it’s really a way of life for a good part of the population here.

Our state line welcome sign says “The way life should be.” I used to think that meant the quaint seaside villages with beautiful shops and plenty of fresh seafood restaurants that line the bulk of the coast. Perhaps it’s that. But I have trouble understanding that the state we saw on our errands is the way life should be.

This is the part where I say I’m grateful, the irony being of course, that we are on the “lesser” end of the community in which we currently live. We have a small house by comparison, not on but near the sea, proximity notwithstanding, it’s not the wealthy part of town, but is a wealthier part of the state.

So what comes first, money or happiness? The answer is not clear. Because in theory and in truth, life is what we make it. And it can all change in the blink of an eye.

No More Daily Grind

There are times in my life when some words have been music to my ears. Like “I love you,” or “Will you marry me,” or “Your teeth are perfect.”

I never dread going to the dentist, I get to hear those same beautiful words I have heard  my entire life. Other than a couple of cavities in my baby teeth, my mouth has reigned supreme.

Until now. Turns out clenching and grinding during your sleep is not too productive. For the first time in my life, I have a dental issue. It started as a toothache, turned out to be a hefty crack. There’s no real way to fix it because of its location, so it needs a “cast” of sorts.

I am about to enter the world of the sexy oral night guard. This is step one before a crown, which I hopefully will not need. But before we need another mortgage to fix what’s in my mouth, I better get to the root of the problem.

Sleep bruxism – yes there is a real term for nighttime clenching and grinding – means the art of unconsciously wrecking your teeth while you are sleeping. 95 percent of us do it at some point in our lives, 20 percent don’t even know we are. It’s actually considered a sleep-related movement disorder, which can lead to jaw issues, headaches, and no surprise here, damaged teeth. It’s caused by several things, the biggy of course is stress.

The word “stress” invites almost as much dread as the word “dentist,” and frankly I’m tired of hearing it. Stress is so non-descriptive, so all-encompassing, so vague. Can’t I have a word that actually means something? Stress is the definition of life anymore, for almost anyone. And the word alone should not be enough to qualify me for a $500. night guard, plus fees and incidentals.

Sure, stress explains the last few weeks, few years, ok, decade. But you’d think I’d have that down by now. Car accidents, illnesses and infections, loss of family, homes, friends, savings, income, and there’s plenty more stress pending. It’s always there hanging out, waiting to infiltrate. It’s actually like my shadow, and as comical as this sounds, I’m used to it. Stress is almost like my friend. I’ve come to know it well, and frankly it doesn’t bother me so much, at least when I’m awake.

It’s when I’m sleeping it turns on me. So this is where I’m drawing the line, no more need to over-achieve on the clenching and the grinding. But what do you do when you think you are managing your stress well during the day, and when you are sleeping you apparently aren’t?

Valium, relaxation techniques and meditation aside, what it’s really all about is control. I want and need to have some consistent predictability in my day-to-day life. A little control over my external environment. For as long as I can remember, stress has called the shots, leaving me feeling completely out of control.

And ironically those are the three magic words. Out of control. Stress comes when we desperately seek control over the things in our lives that feel stressful. So if we let go of control, open up to the unknown, surrender and go with the flow, we may not carry as much stress in our lives…or in our teeth.

We can assimilate by day all we want, but sleep is the time when we really rest and repair, restore and revive. So it’s time to let my guard down and live by those three magic words. Sexy night guard. Just kidding.

Tis the Changing Season

It’s almost here….the most wonderful time of the year. Waiting, anticipating…we’re about to be encapsulated in a holiday snow globe filled with a picture-postcard view. I’m not ashamed to say I love the holidays, always have. It’s not any one thing, it’s the whole big magical fairy-dusted scene.

It does however seem to come earlier every year. We have been graced for weeks now with pre-season Christmas music, TV commercials and happy holiday movies, and I’m good with opening the gates a few days before Thanksgiving.

But this year I’ve had some hesitation. That softly shaken snow globe snow is hiding our new reality. This year’s change of season does not feel familiar, the scene is shifting. It happens. We open chapters, turn pages, close chapters, write new ones. Change is inevitable, we just have to figure it out.

Through the years we grow accustomed to our customs, traditions, and our family gatherings. This year though, the reliable elements offering warm comfort are uncertain. Radiating joy is not coming as easily as it always has. That doesn’t mean it’s not there, it’s just got an unfamiliar ring.

Bonding with the family tops the list. We’re not sure who will be here, we’re more sure of who won’t. So instead of looking forward, we may be looking back. Memories will be at the forefront, at the table, and even under the tree.

While it’s not all about presents, as our economy shifts, so does Santa’s ability to deliver much of what’s on the list. The proverbial pile of presents is not really in the cards.

And what about those tangible pieces of heartfelt holiday sentiment missing from the mailbox? Snail mail cards are a thing of the past. As hard as it was to get the family picture taken, printed, and mailed out in bulk and on time, it meant something to send…and receive them.

Traditions lost but not forgotten, seasonal occasions, annual gatherings, long ago friends, it’s not the expected good old days. Instead it’s the reserved anticipation of the new ones.

Of course holiday decorations, festive lights, classic songs, familiar tastes and scents, the hope of a white Christmas…that all remains the same. So while it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, for us it’s all just beginning. We’re shaking up our snow globe and watching the new scene as the snow settles and the gifts unfold. After all, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Beyond the Bucket List

If you ever want to know what it feels like to have your name in lights both on and off Broadway, ask my good childhood friend, who knows that feeling well. Exceptionally talented artist and writer, she recently wrote and directed her own play that enjoyed a fruitful run in the Big Apple. She and her playwright husband, Tony-award winning no less, sat on an old city stoop long ago, and created the story of their lives, not even knowing it would materialize in living color. My old chum has brought her own fairy tale to life. Pretty neat when you see that happen firsthand.

The cool thing about her is that she’s just like she was in our youth, when little girls dream big and play accordingly. And although she’s seen some of her dreams come true, it’s not about fame and fortune, and it’s not about the limelight. It’s about doing what she loves, and successfully sharing it with others.

Took me a lot of years to really understand what it means to try to live a passion and purpose-driven life. My life was always about others, which was just fine at the time. I successfully raised three humans, that’s no small task. So I can’t say my life up to now has not had some passion and purpose, it has.

But I can say that I’m strongly feeling the drive to make a few of my own dreams come true. I can check finding a soulmate off the list, Sir Husband more than fits the bill. And it’s with him I’d like to share a modern-day fairy tale, the one I’m now literally trying to write on this very page.

Let’s take a short walk down memory lane, that’s where it always begins.

Once upon a time a little girl was told she had the knack for writing, first by teachers, then professors, and always by family and friends. She wrote and wrote for years as she grew up – a diary, letters to pen pals, cards, notes in school, papers, journals, she even wrote a book that she still longs to have published. She didn’t consider it a passion, it was just part of who she was.

Shortly after her third child was born, her life got terribly tricky. At the urging of her closest friends, she started a blog. This seemed only natural, and within days she had a following. She loved it. She shared her deepest thoughts with the online world for two years, and felt a strong calling to continue. But…and there’s always a but…mean, nasty people made her take it down. They even hired a lawyer. And although they had no right, they took away her blog, her passion and her power, along with a lot of other things.

But that’s not where it ends.

That little grown-up girl got up the courage to try again, and she did, just a few months ago. Her vision…my vision is to grow and bloom a new blog until it renders a life-changing field of beauty for all of the world to enjoy. I nurture and pamper it daily, holding the seeds of passion, purpose and hope in my heart.

We never know when or how our treasured tale will unfold, but I’ve seen firsthand that it can. Dream big, play accordingly.

Breaking New Ground

Got 30 seconds? Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths. Feel your feet on the floor, right here, right now. Feel grounded?

The words “get more grounded” have been grounded into my head so many times over the last fifteen years through yoga, you would think I could do it with my eyes closed. I can, but only when I’m standing on my yoga mat. Even then, I may drift in and out of the here and now, as my mind goes wherever it feels like going, my sense of centered, calm groundedness going with it.

We all have a primal need to feel grounded, like we are standing and living on solid ground. We trust it, we know it will hold us up, we believe in its stability, its safety, we don’t even want to think about it. But feeling grounded isn’t always easy. Events and our environment in the present can remove that feeling of security. The world around us right now is a pretty clear example, feeling safe and stable takes some effort.

I came to question my groundedness recently as I realized other than the anchored love of Sir Husband, my own life seems to fluctuate in grand evolution between players and circumstances. Looking back, it always has. And I’d like to stay grounded in spite of it.

I don’t think I’m alone. Who doesn’t want to feel solid in the here and now no matter what else is going on? Turns out learning to feel grounded is formed early and nurtured, sort of becoming our personal foundation. Just like peace and happiness, our sense of stability comes from within.

Of course life ebbs and flows, so an extended tilt in one direction or the other can influence our inner landscape. Feeling grounded in the present is easily lost in the past or the future.This begs the question, how do we “get more grounded” when the foundation constantly shifts? And since feeling grounded is a feeling, what would that really mean?

A few words come to mind…safe and supported, confident and empowered, trusting in life as it presents itself. Not as simple as it seems, we’re back to that old ebb and flow. I’m not sure I ever really learned the feeling of being grounded, starting from my earliest roots. Trust and safety were more about fear and survival, so my foundation is a little bit chipped.

But that doesn’t make it impossible to stand on more solid ground right here and right now. In fact, there’s no need for a yoga mat. I’ll close eyes, feel my feet on the floor, take a deep breath and re-build…I’ve got 30 seconds and then some.