Merry Christmas!

Thank you to everyone who has been stopping by my blog, guest blogging, commenting, and attending my readings. I wish all of you a very  Merry Christmas, and I hope you have a wonderful day with family and friends.

Ann's Christmas Tree, 2015
Ann’s Christmas Tree, 2015

I’m planning on a lovely day with my kids and then an evening of dessert and gifts with my siblings, nieces, and nephews. We love tradition, including cooking a turkey with all the trimmings. My son, Brian, is the designated carver and my daughter Christella makes sure the meal runs smoothly. Here’s a peek at my Christmas turkey from last year—-looking forward to sharing a meal with my family once again this year.

Ann roasts a turkey
Ann roasts a turkey

I love the poem “The Night Before Christmas.” Every year someone tries to recite it from memory, so here is Clement Moore’s unforgettable poem about Santa Claus. May he always be in our hearts.

 

 

 

A Visit from St. Nicholas

BY CLEMENT CLARKE MOORE

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the housetop the coursers they flew
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too—
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Holding on, and Letting Go: Mindy Abbott on Joy and Pain

I’d like to welcome Mindy Abbott to my blog. Mindy and I met a few years ago at Howard Community College’s Blackbird Poetry Festival, the college’s annual celebration of poetry held every April.  More recently, Mindy and I have worked together in an informal critique group, punctuated by homemade meals shared across our kitchen tables.  Mindy brings a wealth of experience as a counselor, teacher, writer, and of course, a wonderful friend. Welcome, Mindy!

“It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.”
Billy Collins ~ On Turning Ten

Mindy Abbott, Montepulciano, Italy
Mindy Abbott, Montepulciano, Italy

In my earliest memory I am sitting in cool, soft grass on a hot day, peaceful in a big, white tent. Big kids’ voices sing. I am too young to know all the words, but these I remember: “Yes, Jesus loves me…” I am safe, part of a community, and loved.

My educator parents, adorable younger siblings, and extended family made my young life beautiful. Mom created my hand-smocked dresses. Both my father and grandfather cuddled me while reading books of rhymes and fairy tales. I lived my life with my senses, playing among lilies of the valley, inhaling their scent, exploring their tiny white bells and surprisingly sturdy little stems. I stretched out with my dad on the beach of a Maine lake, naming the constellations and seeing, for the first time, the dancing pink and green aurora borealis – the northern lights. Life was magical. Our family was not fancy, but was rich in things that really mattered. We gave thanks.

As I grew, life became more, well, life. That freckled kid down the street stole my hat and threw it in the highest branches of a maple. I learned to climb tall trees. Sometimes my mother’s body was present while her mind traveled circular paths, but the reading she modeled let me instead travel by tesseract, feel the sting of paint from Michelangelo’s ceiling in my eye. Later, when a real big, bad wolf waited for me on a path one night, I discovered ferocity, and a strong, loving man who would be there for me. So how is it that, when I married and started my own family, I somehow believed that I could keep us all in the big white tent?

“Life is brutiful. The brutal and the beautiful cannot be separated, we must embrace both or neither.”
~ Glennon Doyle Melton, Momastery, 12-23-2011.

I laugh a lot. I thrive in nature, literally stopping to “smell the roses”. That’s the way I was as a young mom. But I believed myths: bad things wouldn’t happen if I were good enough; if I experienced pain, I should “tough it out”; and the big one, that I was in charge. Ha! I picture God laughing at this, saying “Isn’t she just the cutest?” I thought that diligence would protect me and my little family. But, of course, life came along, not as I had pictured it, but the way it really is: surgeries, loss, heartbreak, being transferred by employers from the people and places we loved. I tried to foresee and prevent pain for myself and my family, but it still snuck in, no matter how hard I worked or sincerely I prayed. I tended to react with “well, could be worse!” That was true but, finally, constantly discounting stress and pain wasn’t working for me. Nor, actually the people I loved. Some pain is too important to be cheered up. It needs to be heard, held gently, and honored. There had to be a better balance. I couldn’t control life.

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
~ Rumi

As a sailor, I know that I do not control the winds, nor the waves; I can only adjust my sails. I was introduced to mindfulness meditation as a pain and stress management technique. As a teacher, the science of mindfulness results appealed to me. The formula “pain x resistance = suffering” made sense. For example, the first sensation when I lifted a stubborn rental car headrest and heard something in my shoulder pop was pain! But why add worries about future activities that might be affected, images of a year with a non-functioning arm, or self-blame? It just makes things worse. Applying self-compassion to the shoulder, then doing a meditation on the rest of the body parts that were doing just fine, helped me keep my physical pain in perspective, reduce my blood pressure, and relax.

Mindfulness turbocharged my religious beliefs with deeper awareness, and a stillness that lets me better hear the holy guidance that sometimes comes in a whisper or a nudge. Mindfulness helped me learn patience, acceptance, and peace.

I have retained my childhood sense of awe, adventure, gratitude, unconditional love, and the seemingly paradoxical senses of belonging and independence. I still laugh, bury my nose in roses, and draw on nature the way that deep roots draw nourishment from the earth. But pain has helped me grow. I found and released my myths. I no longer expect prayer to “fix” things, but feel the Holy Spirit with me through the most difficult moments. I listen more intently. I am more sensitive to the way that my energy affects others. My prayers now include a blessing:

May we all be free of suffering;
may we remember that we are truly known and deeply loved;
may we give and receive compassion and respect;
may we laugh; and
may we be at peace, come what may.

If you’d like to explore mindfulness meditation, try these talks by Tara Brach http://www.tarabrach.com/talks-for-beginners/ , guided meditation by Elisha Goldstein https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvbm4ITpAR0, an MBSR course or mindfulness group, or visit the Insight Meditation Community of Washington.

Melinda “Mindy” Abbott, BSW, M.Ed., worked in adult and pediatric long-term care before teaching public school in three states. An award-winning teacher in Maryland, she later co-taught mindfulness for children, trained in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in Mind-Body Medicine, and published poems as Melinda Bennington. Her heart resides in family, friends, and nature.