Sunday, December 3, 2017

Christmas Decorating: the Nostalgia Factor

It's a beautiful Sunday afternoon in December, warm enough for just a sweater -- at odds with the Christmas music playing in the background and the twinkly lights on the fully decorated tree. But no complaining from this corner! I'd be happy if we get a light dusting of snow on Christmas Eve and then nothing for the remainder of winter. Other than Christmas and soup and fires in the fireplace, I'm not a big fan of this season.
So let's go back to that fully decorated tree... Ivan and I had a bit of a disagreement about when we'd last had a tree. This little ole blog came in handy, as I looked back through, and found we never put up our big tree in the casita, as I asserted and he disputed. We had, however, set it up in Sta. Rosa one year. But I determined it was too much work to decorate, enjoy for five days, and then have to take it back down, so that was that.

Christmas trees make me inordinately happy. And I think I may know why: according to scientists, decorating for the holidays can "create that neurological shift that can produce happiness... Christmas decorating will spike dopamine, a feel-good hormone." Nostalgia is a powerful force, my friend. Happy memories from childhood will make you want to recreate those same feelings, and I think that's definitely true in my case.

My mom made a big deal out of Christmas. (Well, actually, mom made a pretty big deal out of most holidays.) No doubt I get my love of over-the-top holiday decorating from her... no such thing as too much tinsel!... and I still remember how giddy she got when they came out with spray snow in a can.

Moving to Argentina, I downsized from probably ten big bins of Christmas decorations to two. TWO! And when we returned to the U.S. last year, that was further reduced to my most precious ornaments, the nativity set we bought our last year in Argentina and nothing else. I honestly thought I'd also also brought back our tree topper, the lovely wooden nativity from Betty in Paraguay, and the beautiful handmade tree skirt a dear friend made for me, but they are M.I.A., so I must have been wrong. I cannot believe I left that nativity! What's weird is I have the base for it, but the nativity itself is missing. We still have two suitcases waiting to be brought to the states for us, so maybe they're in one of those. I can only hope!

All that to say: we're pretty much starting from scratch here. I picked up our tree a couple weeks ago at the Mennonite thrift store in Goshen. Last year they had dozens and I filed that in my memory bank for this year and stalked the store until they were set out. Wow! There are some really ginormous fake trees! I was working within the constraints of a small space and low ceilings, so had to bypass the majority of trees in my search for one that would fit. My choice is no Charlie Brown tree, but it's also not one of those ceiling scrapers you see in McMansions either. Rather like Goldilocks, I feel my tree is "just right".

Besides those precious ornaments I toted back, I filled in the tree with unbreakable silver and red ornaments picked up last year during the after Christmas sales. Since I'm not about to pay the exorbitant prices they're charging for tree skirts -- even at Walmart! -- and I don't have time to make one, for now a long piece of red cotton fabric is wrapped around the bottom of the tree in loosey goosey fashion. And in lieu of a topper, I conscripted a large angel ornament to fill that spot this year. Our Argentine nativity graces the mantel.
And can we just talk about the mantel? I'm so excited I can hardly stand it. An honest-to-goodness mantel you can hang stockings on! Alas I'm too cheap to buy anything to decorate it. LOL  Plus I'm having major DMD about what I even want. Glitz and glamor? Homespun holiday? International flair? So for now the nativity shares space with what was already up there. Blah, I know. But it's just the beginning of December so maybe inspiration will hit and I'll figure out what I want to do while there's still time. Or not. Vamos a ver.

Meanwhile I thought I'd share some pictures of my tree. I told Ivan I was keeping it up until February, to make up for all the years I didn't have one :) What do you think? I could decorate it with blue and silver balls for January, then red and silver in February. Isn't that a marvelous idea?! Happy twinkly lights for three months. Might even help me get through the winter. 
Isn't this ornament adorable? My sister sent this to me in Argentina a few years ago. Of course I couldn't bring my pretty Ice blue KitchenAid mixer back to the states with me, but I could bring this ornament. (And my sister gifted me a new Ice blue KitchenAid mixer as a housewarming gift this summer!)
I love these two ornaments, grandson Simon on the left and son Jon on the right. Aren't they adorable?!
Thirty years ago we were living in Florida and my "secret pal" in the lady's group made two beautiful silk poinsettias for my Christmas gift. The wires on the white one rusted over time and I ended up having to throw it away, but this red one is still (somewhat) holding up. The wire is starting to come loose from the leaves, so I need to figure a way to fix that. Ideas?
 Have you decorated for the holidays yet? Did it made you happy? How did your childhood Christmases influence how you celebrate today? 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Being strong willed can be a very good thing!

We typically talk about someone who is strong willed in a negative way; we equate strong willed with being obstinate and ornery. But being strong willed is an excellent trait when you're 96 years old and have just broken your hip. You'll need every bit of that strong will to get back on your feet!

I'm so impressed with mom's quiet stoicism and determination as she faces recovering from all that she's gone through this week. She's never once complained, she always tells the nurses she's fine when they ask, and she didn't fuss at all when they got her up out of bed and on her feet yesterday morning. You know it had to be quite painful, but the only sound she made was a brief groan -- as they were helping her settle back into bed!

I have no doubt she will recover enough to get back to her apartment in assisted living, where one  of the prerequisites is being able to get to and from the dining hall on your own. She's also motivated to get back to church. When we were filling out the paperwork for the move from independent to assisted living in May, one of the questions was what hobbies do you have or what do you most enjoy doing? Mom's immediate answer: go to church!

Mom's dad was a pastor so she grew up in the church, and then she and her husband served for over four decades as missionaries in Argentina, before "retiring" back to the U.S. and getting very involved in the church she's still attending. There's never been a time when church wasn't an integral part of her life.

The people at her church are as close as family. One special couple was at the hospital all day Tuesday. Others have visited too. It's clear she's dearly loved by her church family. She's equally loved at the retirement village where she's lived for the past six years.

Grace Village has everything from condominiums to independent apartments to assisted living to medical care, and also a rehabilitation center. There was some question as to whether she'd be able to go there for rehab because her old insurance didn't work with them. We've known all year, since her hospital stay in January, that we wanted to switch her insurance but had to wait for the open enrollment period. We communicated with our own insurance agent who said he could set up an appointment to talk to us about our insurance, and with mom about hers. Our appointment got pushed to the end of the month because he was working hard to get those clients covered whose insurance companies were leaving the state. So for several weeks we've known and planned for the appointment by phone on Tuesday, November 28th.

And then mom fell and broke her hip the 27th.

So when it was time for the call on Tuesday, Ivan fielded it alone. Mom was fresh out of surgery, still in that happy place anesthesia takes you, and I was sitting in a dentist's chair in Ft. Wayne getting a root canal (another hiccup in the plans). I had done the legwork and figured out what insurance we wanted, and what mom needed, so it wasn't like I left Ivan hanging out there on a limb. And our agent and his colleague were great! His colleague drove down Wednesday and filled out all the forms on his computer. Mom was still pretty shaky at that point, and embarrassed at how wobbly her signature was, but her worst signature is better than my best. And within about an hour and a half, it was a done deal. Whew! 

So today mom will be transferred to the rehab center at Grace Village and begin the long, arduous therapy necessary to get back her mobility. I have the utmost confidence she'll do it! She's motivated and she's strong willed!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Loss Upon Loss

I wrote a lot about grieving after Sharon's death and then it's been radio silence ever since. But I've been journaling a LOT, and talking about all the feelings to people who can handle it. That's been helpful.

But it's not just Sharon's death. It feels like we're facing a season of "loss upon loss". That phrase really struck a chord with me. Reading Marilyn Gardner's post about "Death, Loss and TCK Grief" was quite helpful, especially since it was published on the day Ivan's oldest brother, Lynn, passed away. Lynn had been suffering from Lewy Body dementia and late stage liver disease, so while his death was not unexpected, that didn't make it any less difficult.

And now Ivan's mom has fallen and broken her hip (successful surgery yesterday) so she faces the loss of independence in the days ahead, during healing and rehabilitation, and we have no idea how long it will take.

Gardner writes: "As I've allowed myself to feel, I have opened the door to memories of other times of grieving and other grief patterns that are seemingly unrelated. But grief is grief, and loss is loss. They connect together like a dot to dot child's book, creating a picture that represents something much bigger than just one dot."

There is so much truth in that. 

While journaling, I've begun to see patterns. Something happens that, for some reason, causes certain feelings. I dig deep, trying to figure out why I've reacted the way I have, and what comes to light is something that happened during my younger years, and the more recent event triggered the same feelings as back then.

Life is filled with loss. It's inevitable and hits everyone with equal abandon. We can't protect ourselves from loss, and we can't protect those we love from it. I find it comforting that loss is talked about so much in scripture; honestly, no filters, head-on. God doesn't expect us to slap on a happy face and pretend everything is fine when it's not. He expects us to be honest about our losses, go deep into our grief, always knowing He's right there with us. I'm grateful He showed us His own grief and loss in the Garden of Gethsemane.

No, everything is not fine. And not to make light of things, but young Alexander hit the nail on the head when he said it was a "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day" and finished by admitting, "My mom says some days are like that". I'd like to add some months, years, even decades are like that. 

But it's hard to admit things aren't okay, that it feels like things are falling apart, that we're lost in our grief and loss. Part of it is our American can-do, pull yourselves up by your bootstraps culture, and I believe part of it is from our church culture that glosses over grief to focus on the joy, joy, joy, joy down in our heart.

Isn't it more honest, more biblical, to face reality as the men and women of scripture did? To acknowledge the depths of our despair, while clinging to the hope that He's hanging onto us when we don't have the strength to hang on ourselves? (Which, if we're honest, is all.the.time.)

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Leaning Into Grief

Expecting to feel pretty slammed by grief on Tuesday, when all the family had gone and I would have the time to stop and think...and feel... it surprised me to just be numb and lethargic. I spent all morning reading a library ebook that had become available that day. Didn't get out of my pajamas until 2 p.m. Couldn't stay focused in the afternoon, thoughts flitting from one thing to the next in rapid succession. 

Then while surfing through my Facebook feed, up popped a link to a post about "leaning into grief" (sorry, I wasn't in the proper frame of mind and didn't think to note the author or title) and it made sense -- but how exactly do you do that? Lean into grief? The author said the point was to face it head on, rather than trying to go around or ignore grief. The idea floated in and out of my head all evening.

Wednesday morning I decided to read emails Sharon and I had written to one another in the months leading up to our departure from Argentina. As IRL, my emails were lengthy (blah, blah, blah)... while hers were short and to the point. We were so very different in so many ways but, for whatever reason, we totally understood one another. That's rare. That's a gift.

For me that's what leaning into grief looked like on Wednesday.