Holidays not so merry? Celebrate the solstice!

Winter solstice
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The winter solstice is the day that marks the longest night of the year and the beginning of gradually lengthening days.  Some historians say it occurs right around the time of the Christmas festivities each year because this time was already a time of rejoicing for all the pagans in the world. Here’s a fascinating account from the Religious Tolerance website:

In pre-historic times, winter was a very difficult time for Aboriginal people in the northern latitudes. The growing season had ended and the tribe had to live off of stored food and whatever animals they could catch. The people would be troubled as the life-giving sun sank lower in the sky each noon. They feared that it would eventually disappear and leave them in permanent darkness and extreme cold. After the winter solstice, they would have reason to celebrate as they saw the sun rising and strengthening once more. Although many months of cold weather remained before spring, they took heart that the return of the warm season was inevitable. The concept of birth and or death/rebirth became associated with the winter solstice. The Aboriginal people had no elaborate instruments to detect the solstice. But they were able to notice a slight elevation of the sun’s path within a few days after the solstice — perhaps by DEC-25. Celebrations were often timed for about the 25th.

First of all, imagine living in a time when you didn’t know if the sun might be disappearing forever! Unlike today, when we know for scientific fact that the earth’s temperature is rising and its ecology threatened with global warming, we can prepare ourselves and imagine ways of dealing with frightening challenges.  Back then, all they could do was pray.

Anyway if you hate the typical holidays, you could try celebrating the return of the sun during the week of the winter solstice (usually December 21). Gather some candles, slips of paper, a few acorns (or pictures of acorns) and invite a friend over. Each write down any negative memories or feelings from the past year. Then light some candles and burn those bits of paper (have a fireproof container handy) as you release the negative energy. Then think about what wonderful secrets are contained in the acorn—just as your life can now welcome new beginnings.  Then eat, drink and be merry together knowing you’ve released some worries and opened your heart to new good.

Meanwhile, whatever you do celebrate, have a beautiful, warm, loving time.

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Holidays – your favorite time or your worst nightmare?

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It’s that time of year for candlelight and warm beverages and heart-warming stories. Do you have happy memories from your childhood holidays? So many people don’t–and it often makes their adult holiday times less than enjoyable.

I’m glad to say my childhood memories are mostly positive. With nine living kids in my family let me tell you, when we came down on Christmas morning, it looked like heaven had opened up and dropped a giant bag of presents on us—all piled under and around the multi-color lighted real tree. Even though none of us received a lot, the combination of a few things for each of the nine of us added up to what looked like a mountain of treasure. Plus, many of us were close enough in age that we could look forward to potentially sharing goodies with each other. Another favorite tradition for me was getting the honor of moving Joseph and Mary one step closer to the manger each day, then putting the baby Jesus into the scene on Christmas eve. Oh, and of course singing hymns together that night.

Do you start celebrating early so you can get more fun out of the season? In Chicago we have a radio station that starts playing only Christmas music from November 1st on! Do you try to make your present-day holidays fun despite not-so-happy memories? Or do you just struggle to get through these days and hope not to get majorly depressed? Are you religious and hope to spend extra time attending services? I’ve sung in a choir at a few times in my life—I have some fond memories of singing during Advent and at Christmas night celebrations.

If you’re single and don’t have a family (or have one that you don’t care to see) while all your friends disappear into theirs, this time of year can be crummy. If you’re single and want to create a special time, find some other single women (I know it can be hard; some single women are reluctant to identify themselves as such) and plan a story-sharing evening. Make it a potluck gathering so no one person has to do too much work. Share good memories of holidays. Share ideas for making the end of the year special and for celebrating the beginning of the new year. Encourage each other. Get to know each other better. Plan something fun together—bake something together. Go ice skating if you’re still young enough, or drink hot toddies if that feels better. Or maybe drink hot toddies and then go skating… Doesn’t matter. Whatever feels good is good.

What do you do for fun or satisfying ways to make this time of year special?

Patinoire du marché de Noël : Plaisir d'hiver 2006

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Virtue, thy name is “spread thy baking tasks over time”

'Cavendish' bananas are the main commercial cu...
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Okay, I’ve had this passel of bananas browning on my counter for the past week. They oughtta be good ‘n’ ripe now, I tell myself yesterday as I start washing the dishes piled in the sink from the last few days. It’s time to make that recipe I planned on when I deliberately bought way too many bananas (hey, the Costco on Elston has great prices!) for me to eat.

Been waiting for the moment when I am not under a high-pressure deadline for a project. But I also have to psych myself into the mood to dig out the flour and sugar and baking powder/soda. Anyone know an easy way to remember which type goes in which kinds of baked good? Which leads me to think about baking and how the types of baking recipes I’m even willing to consider are all fairly simple. None of this puff pastry, handmade pasta or piecrusts, or brioche (oh, yeah, I never touch yeast after a couple of truly mediocre efforts many years ago when I was still a married, stay-at-home mother). Yet I love things like banana bread for my breakfast, and I can make it so it feels really healthy. So why do I resist baking so stubbornly?

I’ve decided it’s not that baking is so hard. It’s first because my ingredients are usually buried in the back of some cabinet or closet—where in the world did I put that stuff when I moved?—which means I can’t just start. I am passionate about being able to do what I want to do immediately when I decide to do it. None of this running out to the store because I don’t have any vanilla or my brown sugar has hardened into a block of concrete. And then there’s the dozen-plus bowls and utensils I’ve got to dirty up—and wash afterwards.

So last night I still have some energy left at 6 pm. I think, I’ll put the butter out to soften tonight. If I pour the sugar on it, it won’t be too exposed. Not sure what happens to butter if you leave it out a really long time. I read somewhere that when you leave margarine out for days/weeks it never gets moldy or  anything–meaning it’s truly plastic. So I guess butter must eventually mold or get sour.

1/2 lb butter, 1 c sugar, 1/4 c water and 1 tb...
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And did you know that unsalted butter (the kind I like best) doesn’t get as soft as salted butter? Even though I soften it all night (and sometimes all the next day if my timing gets screwed up) I still have to beat the hell out of it with my long-handled wooden spoon in a valiant effort to cream it with the sugar. None of this using oil, or melting the butter. And none of this using the electric mixer. Somehow I’ve convinced myself the texture of the finished product is better if I expend all that energy by hand instead of taking shortcuts.

Okay, I did it. It’s 8 o’clock in the morning. Christmas music is  playing on my customized Pandora Internet radio station. I just finished cleaning up the dishes and utensils and have taken the banana-oatmeal bread out of the oven. Do I feel virtuous? Absolutely. Am I going to have a hard time waiting until it’s cool enough to have a piece for breakfast. Well, duh.

Anyway—as we all learn eventually—the trick is to break up the dreaded work into tasks that can be spread over time. Oh, yeah, and maybe I’ll try to carve out a space to keep all my dry baking stuff in one spot. Maybe this way I’ll get a few more of those goodies baked for friends and family this Christmas.

And have many more opportunities to feel virtuous, too… ” )

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Reflections: end of year clearing out

Wow. The end of a year full of challenges and changes. How’s yours been? Business has been suffering for lots of folks lately. Surprisingly, many married folks I know this year asked their spouses to go out and earn some extra income. No second earner can be a definite disadvantage to being single when times are tough!

But I’ve learned to cut down (well, some) on the drama surrounding challenges. Getting older is leading me to get quite philosophical about both the passing of time and the shifting in my various worlds. No matter what’s happening–health, finance, family–it feels like just another day…and yet each day seems more precious than it used to be.

house_cleaningDoing a thorough clearing out of my possessions. It’s feeling good to lighten up my life. Gave some of my good things to family for Christmas–that was fun. The pundits say that we must clear out the old in order to let new good things come into our lives.

Come on, Good! I’m making lots of room.

My best wishes to all single working women and everyone for a blessedly peaceful and prosperous new year.

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Single women at Christmas

300px-JChristmas_painting

Here's to hearing angels on high all year long

Single women have pretty much the same array of choices for spending Christmas day as non-singles. Some will spend it with family, some with friends, some alone (e.g., the non-single woman who is estranged or separated from her mate—or wishes she was). Some will get Chinese food and see a movie, some will rest and read, some will clean or perform other chores.  Some will volunteer at soup kitchens. Some will exercise their creativity—cook, write, paint, play music.

Some, like me, will hang out with their grandchildren and see Christmas again through the eyes of the child. Some of us have spent hours planning, shopping, and wrapping. Some have foregone this practice and decided just to share themselves in some way.

Some of us, like me, who are moving, may be practicing the art of letting go—there’s a joy in releasing stuff to do good elsewhere in the universe. I’m pleased that I can give some of my treasured things to my family members this year. This Christmas I decided to do a little of each: “shopping” from my own possessions, wrapping, and writing about my move within Chicago.

Whatever you’re doing this year, try spending a few minutes every hour just stopping and feeling your feelings. Regard them with respect and tenderness. Send love and appreciation to yourself for all that you do, for all that you share with others, and for all you contribute to the world around you. And while you’re doing that, be sure to express your love to people and send appreciation out to all those who touch your  life.

Merry, merry Christmas to all the wonderful single women in the world. Extra good wishes to all the single mothers who work so hard to make Christmas special for their kids.

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