Celebrating "traditions"

Around the holidays I like asking people what kind of traditions they honor when they celebrate Christmas or other holidays.  There are so many different cultures coming together in California and an infinite variety of celebrations.  Our family continues to evolve our "traditions" with ideas from my family and travels. First, we celebrate on Christmas Eve, something my Norwegian grandfather started. Given the choice of opening gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas day, earlier is better. We have scaled back the dinner though to barbeque tri-tip or something easy.  Of course there is apple pie.

Warning! If you believe in Santa Claus, stop reading here.

When I was little my Grandfather played Santa Claus at the department store in Santa Rosa, so I never believed in Santa. We still put out our stockings but we knew that Mom was filling them with stocking stuffers.  We celebrated Jesus' birthday by attending Christmas Eve services.

Cupcakes for Jesus' birthday.

After the divorce I had to share the kids, so Tevis, Sarah and I put more emphasis on Christmas Eve.  About the same time I shifted church affiliation to Sacramento Friends and the meeting does not offer Christmas Eve services. This makes the evening schedule more relaxed. We have added Jesus' birthday cake (and after some protests, added the pie back).  We also enjoy the English tradition of Christmas crackers or poppers. You pull the cracker and it pops and out spills a paper crown, a toy and a joke.

Sarah and Marcos hosted this Christmas Eve and I brought the apple pie and the Christmas crackers.  The crackers were the last ones available at William Glen Christmas store, and they were a little fancier than usual.  The crowns were gold foil instead of colored tissue paper; the prizes were actually usable (usually more like Cracker Jack's prizes); and the jokes were better, though still corny.

Best joke of 2013:  Q: What do you call a boomerang that doesn't return?  (A: A stick.)

Most sophisticated joke of 2013:  Q: How does Good King Wenceslas like his pizza?  (A: Deep, and crisp and even.)

Most misunderstood joke of 2013: Q: What do you call a penguin in the desert?  (A: Lost.)  Tevis still doesn't get how this is funny.

Christmas Day shifted for me once Tevis and Sarah started spending it with their Dad. I spent many a  happy day with my friend Cameon and her family. I have also gone to the movies with the kids after their Dad moved to Washington state. Two years ago I flew home from New Zealand, living Christmas day twice. This year I drove to my rental home in Trinidad, CA for a writing retreat. I get to spend lots of quality time with Harriet and her family. I brought Radar and he's enjoying 5 minute walks to the beach and playing with Hetta's dog Ted. I am searching for a balance between reading, writing and watching Home and Garden TV (this is why I do not have a television at home).

I read recently that Christmas as we know it in the U.S. is a relatively recent development; for many, many centuries Christians did not make a big deal out of Christmas.  We are a long way from getting excited over an orange in our stocking: the over the top theatrical productions at mega-churches;  the crazy spending on food, gifts, decorations; the house light decorations or multiple Christmas trees. One Christmas when the kids were very small I remember getting completely stressed out and making the decision to stop the madness. I made a list of all the stuff I was doing--from sending Christmas cards, to making cookies for all of the neighbors, and so on. And I chose what I was going to do and not do. I have been tweaking the plan ever since. It is great to be in choice. If throwing yourself into the Christmas holiday and reveling in it all, good on you. Maybe because Christmas has a lot of emotional baggage as well as good memories, I have scaled back my expectations and enjoy it more.

This year was the first year with one of the children married and sharing our traditions and starting new ones. Marcos' parents Neila and Leon joined us for Christmas Eve dinner (brother Lucas was too ill to join us). Neila shared the funny iPad game "Heads Up!" and we laughed a lot playing this charades type game. It may become a new tradition.  Things will continue to change as the family continues to expand in the coming years.  As long as I remember that we have choices it will be something to celebrate.

Merry Christmas Dear Friends

In search of english holly

I took a walk one nippy winter morning this week and took these photos of holly and berries in the Village Homes gardens.

Trees celebrating Christmas

So many trees are celebrating Christmas...

Ornaments in the tree

And just outside my window are these charming berries.

Just outside my window

Beauty abounds in winter if we look for it.

beauty abounds

Wishing you a merry Christmas and time to walk in God's beautiful creation.

It's complicated...

On the one hand, I have experienced God answering big prayers in awesome ways in the last two weeks.  Sarah Harriet ended up with two jobs--so rich in work that she could be generous and share with her roommate.  Kate's daughter Gina got the teaching job she needed--the one with the short commute and at the school where she really wanted to work.  And I got a call from Auckland Council offering me a short-term contract. On the other hand, I have not exhaled yet about Auckland Council, though it is the "dream" job in many ways.  I will be working with the Tamaki Transformation Programme (more on that in a future post).  First though I have to work through many hoops to get my work permit.  And hope that Nandita, who will be my supervisor at Auckland Council, is willing to go through the hassle.  All in a time and space when it seems everyone goes on leave.

When Christmas is in the summer, as it is here.  Then school is out for the summer break and holidays.  Apparently it is much like between Christmas and New Years with the  added "bug out" of an August in France during January.  Thus getting my paperwork done will be an extra challenge.

So I ask you to keep praying for me to get a job.  If anything, you can pray more specifically that I work well with the Medicine agency who is charged to figure this out and that NZ Immigration processes the paperwork quickly.  (I will count it as a miracle if they do!)

I would say "Nothing that is worthwhile is easy."  Except that sometimes it is easy, and sometimes not.  And persistence and patience are virtues I will keep practicing.

Meanwhile, while I waited for the call from Auckland Council I went for a walk along the bay.  It was SO BEAUTIFUL today: blue sky with fluffy white clouds, pohutakawa trees starting to bloom, the sea a brilliant color.*  So beautiful that if beauty were like drinking water, then I was drinking from a fire hose.  It helped me remember that it will all be worth it if I can find a way to stay.

*Before you chide me about not providing a photograph--I do not think there is a camera invented that could have captured how stupendously beautiful the image appeared in my mind.