Thursday, December 27, 2007

National Day of Whining

The day after Christmas in England is Boxing Day, likewise in Canada. I have heard lots of explanations of the name, ranging from the traditional day the poorboxes are opened to the poor to the day that Canadians like to shop in box stores (really!).

I am proposing that in the US we should proclaim December 26 to be the National Day of Whining About Our Families--NaDaWhAF for short. Here are some real life examples I heard this Nadwhaf:

My Mom only gave my kids one gift each.
My family didn’t get my packages in the mail—I wonder if she is shopping at the after-Christmas sales.
It was the first day since my Dad died—my brother came late and left early.
My Mom only gave me $12 in scratch-off tickets as my gift.
I never get thank-you notes—I wonder if I should just strike them off the list.
My kids bickered all day.
My teenagers seem to view Christmas as a shake-down opportunity. Only one item on their list was under $200.
My daughter sent me a certified letter for Christmas, but I don’t know what it says because the post office is closed on Christmas Eve.
Everyone in my family was sick.

The great thing about Nadwhaf: It seems to last only a day, at least for most of us. By December 27, we no longer pine for Santa Claus and we have adult expectations of other adults in our lives. Mostly.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas came early this year

Don’t get me wrong, I love the hustle-bustle, the parties and the presents, all the sparkle and warmth of this season. I enjoy picking out just the right present for friends and family, then wrapping them while I imagine the unwrapping. This year, even the baking turned out just right as my cookie exchange was perfectly timed to supply the office Christmas party, and the stollen was ready just before I needed an extra thank-you for my plow guy. All of it is fun, and I wouldn’t miss it.

Still, there comes a time each year when the commotion steps back and silence takes center stage. That’s when Christmas comes. You feel it right down into your bones. Certainly, there have been years when Christmas seemed very far away from whatever woes I was experiencing, but I have been blessed to have a lotta lotta Christmas in my life. And I have learned that while you cannot wrestle Christmas into your life, you certainly can invite its peace and calm.

I’ve never been much for Christmas lights, and this year I have even foregone a lighted tree since we are dog-sitting. So last night I was sitting in my living room with a dozen small candles in the window…and there it was. Suddenly these tiny lights seemed incredibly bright, illuminating the darkness. Just astonishingly bright, and quieter than a (temporarily) three-dog house could be imagined to be. Christmas.

All best wishes for you—that you may know the peace and joy of Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Officially winter

This is a day for great celebration, the shortest day of the year, which blessedly is followed by longer and longer days. Every little lumen is a gift to those of us who crave light. I must have been a plant in another life, or maybe I am one now.

It’s a short day at the office. Most working people have picked their heads up and shifted eyes from computer screens to gaze into the distance and wonder that the holiday season is really upon us. Do we have enough food in the house, enough wine? Heavens, yes. Are our gifts purchased and wrapped? Pretty much, yes. The baking is all done, the wrapping paper is packed away. We are ready to kick back for a few days. As we anticipate the pleasure of our loved ones, we know that the office will wait.

Here in Vermont, it is looking very Christmas-y. Snow came early this year, and in quantity. There’s a good two feet of snow on the ground at my house. The dogs love it, but they look more like porpoises than dogs as they attempt to bound through deep and drifted snow.

Forecasters opine that it is pretty certain that we will have a white Christmas, even though it may rain this weekend. More than one Vermonter has been heard to wish they were staying home this year—the skiing is reported to be excellent—especially if they are heading out west where there has been little snow so far.

Snow! It’s amazing stuff. It’s still a novelty to me, but I don’t revel in it the way Vermonters do. One friend reminisced about building forts and tunnels—she and her small buddies dreamed of creating a network of tunnels connecting all the houses in their neighborhood. And if you go to an outdoor party in the winter here, all the adults fling themselves into sledding, sliding and general mayhem along with the kids. (For a description of a Vermont sliding party see

Vermonters don’t have all the different words for snow that Eskimos do, but they do talk about different kinds of snow. This unusual early December snow is declared to be “greasy.” It is hard to plow, easy to turn to ice under tires.

Perhaps that is why I just got stuck in my driveway last night. I took a run at the garage, but wasn’t going fast enough. Couldn’t go forward, couldn’t go back without running the risk of skidding into a snowbank. Tried to angle left….bigger skid….angle right…smack into the snowbank. This in a driveway no more than fifty feet long, but with a wicked slope.

I called my plow guy, and this morning he came over and pulled me out. I am so grateful that he helps me out of these all too frequent situations, and I told him so, handing over a loaf of Christmas stollen as well. Now that I have gotten stuck—right in my own driveway like the gosh-darned flatlander that I am—it must really be winter.

Long time Vermonters tolerate us newer Vermonters remarkably well. I started the morning with Willem Lange’s story of Favor Johnson on NPR--the story of a hound names Hercules, a flatlander doctor, homemade fruitcake and the real spirit of Christmas. Honestly, they shouldn’t play these stories on the radio! I could barely steer through tears. It’s a good story and you can hear it here

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Thank goodness for Christmas letters

Adapted from a response to my friend Tykie's Christmas letter

I was so pleased to receive your Christmas letter and hear all your good news. Getting married! I wish you the very best.

Even better is the overall tone of your letter. You just seem happy. And I couldn’t be more delighted.

I’m doing well…though not as well as you! I’m sitting in my Vermont farmhouse looking out at snow covered fields. We had an early snowfall, which has left us with about a foot and a half of really nice snow on the ground. This doesn’t usually happen until January, but it is a boon to the ski industry and awfully Christmas-y. I’m not sure when I last communicated with you, but if you want to track my acclimatization to Vermont, take a look at my blog... Some of it is pretty good (if I do say so myself), some is just dull, but I have had a good time with it. There are pictures, too.

I spent four years doing economic development work for one of the counties here, which was in many ways very satisfying—-helped me get integrated in the community--but not particularly well paid. Finally last January, I decided that I really needed to prop up the retirement funds a bit before I needed them, so I am now working for a very small wealth management firm...I will hear no whining about commuting—-I have an hour drive each way in the summer. How long it takes in the winter is still an open question…worst so far was two and a half hours to get in one morning. Our interstate is only two lanes in each direction, so it doesn’t take much to close it down completely!

Vermont is awash in former Morganites. Hugh Kemper is attempting to redesign the cost structure of the education system, Tom White is heading up research at Dwight Investment Management, and I see Karen Reukauf Sharf from time to time when she comes up to her Vermont house.

My household has been dog-centric since 2000. My dear old Max died in January of last year. He had been failing for some time, so I got a beautiful German Shepherd girl the November before he died. She is named Cassandra and called Cassie and is a complete delight. She listened carefully to everything that Max had to teach her and learned how we do things in this household. She allows Toby, now eleven I think, to be the number one dog, and he mostly adores her as long as she does not herd him too vigorously.

Cassandra takes her name from mythology, from the prophetess who was doomed to be always correct and never believed. When I first started working in economic development in Vermont, as I was ranting about the need for universal broadband or enhanced computer skills or something similar, someone said this to me: “You are probably right. You are almost certainly right. But in Vermont, you are Cassandra. They will never believe you.” What a perfect name for a German Shepherd! They rant and bark and try to herd everyone, but if you know them well, you know it is pretty much an act. And it helps keep me humble to be reminded that people here don’t believe things that people in other worlds take for granted.

It really is a very simple life here. Neither you nor I was ever particularly conspicuous in our consumption, but my life is pared way back. In a good way.

This morning I got up and made a fire in the furnace. I burn wood on weekends for warmth and economy. A little breakfast, then out for a snowshoe and a romp with the neighbor’s dog Acer (named for the genus of maple trees, Cassie’s best friend). A little later, a guy who once had a little crush on me will bring over lots and lots of evergreen branches, and I will make eighteen kissing balls for the Rotary Christmas silent auction. I’m not in the Rotary any more now that I drive to Burlington, but I still have good friends there and they like to rope me into projects—kissing balls in the winter, duck race in the summer. The ducks live in my garage. This afternoon, I will wash my disgusting floors (all that snow tracked in brings piles of mud), then bake cookies for the cookie swap. This evening, I will get together with friends who count on my good sense and perspective (as I do on theirs), and we will finish the evening with a trial run of Acer staying with us while his family goes away for vacation. I might do a little writing for work or for fun, will almost certainly do a little knitting. I am currently obsessed with socks. It’s a good life.

How do you Washingtonians like the tree we sent you?