Hey 2020! Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!

So long, 2020. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Once was enough on this one. Absolutely nobody is saying, “That was fun. Let’s do this again.”

The passing year morphed into a time warp. Memories of when events happened are jumbled, out of focus and out of sequence. The benchmarks have vanished. Cancel culture cancelled life.

If someone told me that we are actually in March and St. Patrick’s Day is around the corner, I might believe them.

That will be me pinching people in January for not wearing green.

The isolation, the anxiety and the uncertainty have taken a toll.

But what if? What if 2020 wasn’t completely rotten?

What if we take the things we have learned and pull them forward?

Our neighborhood transformed under lockdown. People were out walking from the first gleam of sunrise to the last shadows of evenings. On pleasant days, the four-way stop at the corner was pedestrian congestion.

“You go first.”

“No, you go first.”

We were kind and deferential to one other. The election was still a ways off.

Stangers stopped to talk. I met a couple in their 40s who bought a house a few blocks over. They beamed announcing that they were first-time homeowners.

Kids and families rode bicycles and grown-ups and kids played ball together. There were outdoor concerts in backyards and green spaces.

Medical and emergency personnel, utility workers, trash collectors, law enforcement and grocery clerks became the heroes among us, larger than life.

Thank you. A million times, thank you.

People in every corner tried to make the best of a bad situation—there were movie nights in driveways with projectors aimed at garage doors, neighborhood scavenger hunts on social media, chalk art on sidewalks and generous tips for food service workers when restaurants reopened. At times, American ingenuity was on full display.

Granted, the year was difficult, but it wasn’t the Germans blitzing England during WWII. At least that’s what I kept telling myself. And maybe, just maybe, we gained a little perspective on the things that matter most.

I’ll never again take a welcoming hug or small soft hand in mine for granted.

I’ll never again drive by a hospital or nursing home without saying a silent prayer for all those inside.

We attended two graveside funeral services this year. We saw the grieving weeping, their hearts breaking into a thousand pieces. Every fiber of their beings longed for comfort and every fiber of our beings yearned to give it, but one cannot extend genuine human comfort from a distance of 6 feet away. When the virus is finally laid to rest, I may do a hug tour.

Far too many are grieving for loved ones. Others have lost income, jobs, businesses, homes and their futures. Many wonder if those things will ever come back.

As a young photojournalist working in Oregon years ago, I covered the explosion of Mt. St. Helens. Sprawling stands of forest that covered the mountain were stripped bare and flattened like toothpicks. Experts said the clouds of gas that exploded from the volcano and the thick layer of ash meant nothing would ever grow on the mountain again.

The following spring small green shoots peeked through the snow.

The mountain came back.

We will, too.

Is it really better to give than receive?

I am at the “Making Things Even” stage of Christmas. It is a family tradition.

When I was a kid, my mother sent me to retrieve something from her wallet and I discovered a scrap of paper with a handwritten list of Christmas gifts and what they cost. She was making a list and checking it twice, making sure there’d be no strife.

Was such attention to equitable distribution necessary? Probably not in our minds, but it was in hers.

Now, here I sit before an open computer file analyzing spending. If only my mother had known about Excel. The tallies between families are within equitable margins. My long-range goal is balanced giving and a proportionate spread of good cheer. When did Christmas become the language of brokers and investors?

A lot of tweaking is happening. As a result, Amazon has worn a path to our front door, FedEx sends texts about deliveries and Kohl’s dings my cell letting me know a pickup order is waiting.

Yet there are still gaps and I rack my brain. What to give? What to give?

It has been said we give gifts we’d like to receive. Better judgment tells me infused olive oil and vinegars will not excite our son or our sons-in-law. Why can’t I channel my inner outdoorsman, distance runner or power tool expert?

What to give? What to give?

The interests of the grands span a wide arc from dolls and art to robotics, books, Nerf Blasters and fossils. There is no one-size-fits all. So the hard work of thinking what to give continues.

Then it comes to me. Scotch Tape!

I said we try to be equitable; I didn’t say we were lavish. They love tape. They’re always asking for tape. I don’t even ask why any longer, I just peel it off the windows and doors and kitchen table and chairs after they leave.

People keep asking, “Are you ready for the holidays?” In large part, they are asking if all the shopping is finished. Giving adds wonder and excitement to the season, but no matter how hard we rack our brains for that something special for that special someone, the most eye-popping, jaw-dropping gift has already been given — the babe in a manger.

Talk about lavish. Who among us would give up a child for the good of others?

It was the most astounding gift with a most humble delivery. There was no panel truck arriving, no cell phone alert, just a young peasant girl, far from home, in a strange place, on a bed of straw. The anguish of labor, the exhaustion of delivery, the first cry of new life and that new babe now breathing on his own.

Surely there were a few moments of stillness, a span of sacred quiet in which they absorbed the mystery and the miracle. Then it began. The celestial explosion, stars blazing, angels proclaiming, shepherds arriving.

Whoever said it is better to give than to receive surely wasn’t talking about Christmas. The driving question during this season isn’t truly, “What do we give?” but “What do we receive?”

Merry Christmas.

 

And now a few small gifts for you, my readers. You are so kind and encouraging. Your comments and emails are always appreciated. They are gifts to me. So here are a couple of gifts for you.

If you haven’t seen this sweet video . . . well, grab a tissue.

Finally, a favorite quote from Lloyd John Ogilvie that grows  more relevant each passing day . . .

“Christmas is a festival of hope. And there is nothing our world needs more desperately than authentic hope. We have placed our hope in all the wrong things. The false gods of human progress, inventive genius, the future, armed power, financial security, governmental effectiveness, movements, great leaders, political parties, negotiation –all have fallen from their thrones. True hope is inadvertent. It does not come from searching for hope. It grows out of two basic convictions: that God is in charge and that He intervenes. This is why a true experience of Christmas gives us lasting hope.”

The choice is a good meal or a good story

It has been said that if you don’t have a good meal on a holiday, you probably have a good story.

I was in a fowl mood before Thanksgiving. Tired of cooking turkey, I opted for Cornish hens. The recipe I was using finished off the hens by cooking juices from the roasting pan with white wine.

Turns out the hens could have finished off the family.

We began eating and it was obvious the hens were undercooked. Not one to overreact, I yelled, “DON’T ANYBODY EAT THE CORNISH HENS!” and lunged for plates on the table.

The husband stuffed a roll sopped in the sauce into his mouth and said, “Bud id daste dood.” I grabbed for his plate. He blocked me with his shoulder and dragged the roll through sauce a second time. I grabbed his arm to keep the bread from entering his mouth. One of the girls swept in from the side and pried his plate from his grasp.

The hens returned to the oven and we returned to a disheveled table. There was still sausage and sage stuffing. The top was burnt black because someone cranked the oven to 400 to finish off a pie crust. The stuffing was “good, but tough.” The green bean casserole, now cold and short on liquids, had congealed.

We’d eaten some of the sweet potatoes earlier in the week, having forgotten they were for the holiday. There was only one for Thanksgiving dinner. I sliced it thin and garnished it heavily, but it still looked alone and afraid on the plate.

The crescent rolls were good. I hadn’t made those.

The hens were finally fully cooked, but I no longer trusted them. As they had foiled me, I foiled them and dumped them in the trash.

Meanwhile, the husband texted everyone a picture of our turkey from last year. It had been bacon wrapped in a basket weave.

He said he was trying to remind everyone of tastier times. He also asked if he had eaten sauce with undercooked juices, how long before he’d be feeling the effects?

Ina Garten, cook extraordinaire and host of her own cooking show, tells of a friend who put a turkey in the oven, then went for a walk. She came back and went to check on the turkey, but the oven door was locked. She had set the oven to clean.

I’d like the story better if it happened to Ina.

A home economist and extension agent in Ohio received a call from a gentleman wanting to know how long a frozen turkey could be safely used. The extension agent said a turkey that has been continuously frozen can safely be used indefinitely, but the taste could be affected. “Oh, I don’t care how it tastes,” the man said. “I don’t like these people anyway.”

I like my people. And I’ve left a bad taste in their mouths. Literally.

It will just be the two of us for Christmas. We’re having ham.

 

Why some staples are edible, some are not

I sent an email to our girls and our daughter-in-law a few weeks ago saying it might not be a bad idea to stock up on staples again.

Crickets. Not a single response.

Late that evening, I received a text from our oldest daughter saying, “Now I get it! I thought you meant staples, like paper clips and rubber bands. I thought, why would we need those?”

Unreal, I thought. And I thought it out loud.

I asked her sister if she got my email about staples and what she thought it had meant. She, too, thought I meant staples for a stapler but didn’t want to say anything because she figured I was having a “Mom Moment.”

First of all, I didn’t know they talk about me having “Mom Moments.” Secondly, why would a “Mom Moment” constitute going to Staples to buy staples?

They’re bright girls. You’ll have to take my word on that.

It’s not them. It’s me. It’s always me. I’m out of date.

Dude.

That’s out of date, too.

Yo!

Archaic words and phrases make for a steep and slippery slope. Help! I’m falling and I can’t get up.

I have a browser tab set to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and not just so I can waste time repeatedly taking vocab quizzes until I can place in the top 10 percent. M-W.com is highly educational. Awhile back, they featured words that are no longer used. Among them were britches, gallivant, slacks, smitten and swell.

I still use gallivant and smitten and I’m going to keep using them. They’re staples. To my hipster credit, I quit wearing slacks years ago and switched to pants, although you wouldn’t know because they look exactly the same.

I’ve always enjoyed colloquial sayings as well. A college roommate from Kentucky used to say our apartment looked like “the wrath of the whoop-de-doo.” I’ve used that for years and will continue to use “wrath of the whoop-de-doo.” I still can’t define it—but I know it when I see it.

I have a friend with so many idioms I keep a computer file on her. She says things like, “I tell you what, that man has more money than Quaker has oats.”

Wouldn’t it be swell to know someone like that? You could gallivant around the world.

If there is unpleasant business ahead, she’ll say, “I’d rather have a spankin’.”

She might, but she should hike up her britches and keep moving.

A friend’s father talks about people “getting all fizzed up.” That’s a good one, too. He got it from his father. The man still using the phrase turns 96 this month.

The girls now understand that I meant pantry supplies (worked in another oldie), not office supplies, when I mentioned staples. I told them not to get all fizzed up about it.

When it comes to antiquated word choice, I’m as independent as a hog on ice, and I plan to remain as independent as a hog on ice.

Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise.