Flowers in California

Flowers in California

Saturday, December 31, 2011

200th Entry

This is the two hundredth entry in this blog.  It won't be long.  I plan to write much more, and in a variety of formats, in the New Year.  Thank you for reading all that you've read.  I wish you an absolutely wonderful New Year and that you fulfill many of your dreams and have much joy and peace!

Friday, December 30, 2011

A Bead and A Link to Christmas Dinners Past

As I walked into the kitchen today, I saw a pearl-like bead on the floor and tried to figure out its source.  Lots of things end up on the kitchen floor but we don't see a lot of beads.

The bead brought to mind thoughts of my grandmother and the jewelry she wore. She's been gone for 21 years.  Quickly, though, I realized that the actual source of the bead was my two year old niece's necklace.  She had visited on Christmas and, at first, was wearing a lovely dress and fun necklace.  By the end of the evening, she was in sleepers and her necklace had been broken in a wild flinging incident.  I'm not surprised to find a stray bead or two left behind.

When my mind had finished travelling from my grandmother to my niece, I realized that was the first time I had linked those 2 people in any way.  There isn't much reason to link them.  The age difference would be in triple digits and my niece is from my husband's side of the family.  With both of them, though, I have gathered at Christmas.  With both of them, I have shared a Christmas dinner and enjoyed the lights from a Christmas tree.  Years apart but the tradition goes on.

I find it interesting to reflect upon the people with whom we have shared previous Christmas celebrations.  The faces change.  Time moves on.  We miss people.  Some people that we wish had joined our table, never made it there at all.  We struggle.  Still we gather.  New faces, some very small, join us.  New boyfriends and girlfriends and husbands and wives and children and in-laws join in.  Traditions change.  Still, we have Christmas celebrations.  I hope we do.

At Christmas dinner, we sit in the light of the Christmas tree, and we smile and eat and talk and poke fun at each other (or maybe that's just us).  The turkey is good, the carrots are not, somebody doesn't like cauliflower, the baby's got her head in her food.  At least she seems to like it.  And so it goes on.

Whatever it is that keeps us coming back together, in ever-changing configurations, I'm glad it happens.  I can hold onto the memories of my grandmother and see if I find any more of my niece's beads.  It is so special to have shared Christmas dinner with each of them.

Our memories are treasures.  And so are our people.  I want to hold onto both of them.  And I want to hold onto the bead.  It seems kind of special now.

I hope that all of you enjoy the traditions that link your life together as you cherish the people who mean so much to you.  God bless you all.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Peace of Christmas

It is daytime on Christmas Eve.  Earlier today, I experienced peace.  I was walking through an alley after a quick trip to the mall.  (NOW I'm done!)  I noticed the gentle nearby sound of traffic, I saw the white snowy environment in which I was walking, I witnessed the stillness and it was nice.

Ideally, we would feel very peaceful at Christmastime.  We seem to have messed that up though.  Instead, this becomes a fascinatingly complicated time of year.  No tv show, whether scripted or reality-based, could outdo the family scenarios that develop and are played out at this time of year.  Cooking a Christmas dinner is one thing - figuring out which family members will attend can be a much more complex matter.  Buying presents can be heartfelt but it seems incredibly important these days to get the right present.  For various reasons, even Christmas dinner table favours can be prepared with equal parts enthusiasm and spite.  (I can give you the pattern for them but you have to supply your own spite.)  It can get so crazy.

Experiencing the peace, that stillness, on my walk this morning was an unexpected surprise.  It was a also a reminder that all of this hoopla is not what matters.  Listening to the quiet, treasuring our loved ones, both family and friends, enjoying the beauty of the season and perhaps trying to understand its meaning, I think these may be some of the true joys of Christmas.

I hope that you all experience many precious joys and much peace this holiday season.  Merry Christmas!


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dining Room Table

With Christmas wrapping and card-writing to do, I've ended up at our dining room table a lot lately.  It's a flat surface in a handy spot and I don't need a lot more right now from a piece of furniture.  It works.

We bought this table about two years ago and it still seems new.  I try to avoid scratches or any kind of damage to it that I can.  Using it for this Christmas work has even caused me some concern.  We bought our old table from the previous owners of the house.  It was their kitchen table and had visible marks on it from where their dog had chewed it.  I don't know what it says about us that for about 15 years we had furniture that was damaged by a pet that wasn't even our own.  But, we took our time and now we have a table we like.  So far, our pets haven't chewed it.

A while ago, my brother and his family visited from out of town.  We love company from out of town and don't get nearly enough of it.  Because of the larger number of people in the house, we ate all meals at the dining room table when they were here.  It was really nice having everyone gathered around it.  At one point, there was concern that the heat from a pizza box (I didn't say we had fancy meals - just that we ate in the dining room) had marked the table.  Nobody wanted that to be the case.  At some point, though, I realized that it was ok if we had marked the table.  As people gather around it and eat, talk, laugh and maybe cry, the table serves its purpose.  As time goes on, it develops its patina from the meals held at it, and the people who come to sit at it.  It is not the table itself that matters - the one with the dog chew marks did work quite well for 15 years after all - but the moments of life that get lived at it.  I cherish these and maybe a mark or two will help us recall these moments.

This year, a Christmas dinner will be held at the table.  As long as we can pull everything together, there will even be a turkey.  I'm not going to encourage people to carve in the table or pour boiling hot liquids on it but if a mark or two gets left behind, that's fine.  It's part of the life of our table and our family.  Perfectly imperfect and that's fine with me.


Personnel Agency - Friend or Foe?

I made a questionable move last week.  I probably made a few but I'll focus on my trip to a personnel agency.  I went to one and suggested that I am available for work.  I have done temporary work before.  Last time, years ago, it led to a wonderful company where I worked happily for five years.  Not all assignments were like that.  A few stand out in my mind as being particularly unpleasant.  Still, I made some money and got experience and found my way around a new city.  It worked well enough.

This time, I would like to start working again (for money!) after being home for 11 years.  I want to write but, at this early stage, writing is not bringing in the big bucks.  Or the small bucks.  Returning to temporary work seemed like a good solution.

I went to an agency and spent much longer than I expected doing various software and data entry/typing tests.  My software skills were average, the rest was quite good and the company is willing to send me out into the wilds of the business world again.  It felt nice to be back downtown that day and to think that soon I would be a part of things again.

I guess there wasn't enough conversation that day about what I want to do.  It's difficult until you hear about an assignment to know whether you want it or not.  If stringent guidelines are laid out about what is and isn't acceptable, though, it's possible to miss out on something so good it's worth a few compromises.  But clearly, I could have been more specific.  I suppose they could have asked more helpful questions too.

The next day I received a call about an assignment that would start the next day and last a month.  I listened to the job responsibilities.  The list went on and on and on.  I could not believe the quantity and diverse nature of the duties.  I could carry out some of them, some might cause me to have emotional breakdowns, and some would probably tempt me to do bad things to people.  (I don't know how wise it is to place an overworked and resentful temporary employee in the position of making travel arrangements for people.  "Sure, I'll arrange for a flight for you" might sound helpful but there's no indication of where the flight would go or if a flight back would also be arranged.  Apparently they were willing to give me that power.  They shouldn't.)

With the position being available so suddenly and an immediate need to temporarily fill it, I wonder what happened to the person previously in it.  Perhaps the awfulness of the role got to her or him.  Perhaps they also came up with the idea of giving someone a one way ticket to a far off land and they followed through with it.  Whatever happened, if this person handled so many responsibilities, I fear that no one else would be able to explain the role and help me become comfortable in it.  There would be expectations, however, and tasks to perform.  It would be quite yucky.  You can quote me on that.

I didn't take the position.  It's fine, and expected, to turn down positions.  What bothers me is that this position was so wrong for me.  It wasn't a little wrong - it was extremely wrong.  It goes against who I am and clearly the person I talked to at the agency did not pick up on who I am and my strengths and weaknesses.  I will help with accounting or administrative work and I like problem solving.  If you put me in a little corner somewhere and ask me to sort something out, I will do that.  I've done some breathtaking (ok, maybe not breathtaking but good) work with spreadsheets.  Try to pretend I'm an administrative assistant though and bad things will happen.  You'll learn quickly that I have no aptitude for that role.  You'll learn quickly that you've made a bad decision.  You'll learn quickly that no one will win in that scenario.

I don't know where my relationship with the agency is going.  Perhaps it's over already as I have turned down another assignment since the first call.  That may be for the best.

Personnel agencies play a useful role.  I know that working for them can be a good experience.  I see, however, that their goal is pretty much to find a person for a job, any job.  That's how they make money.  That's how they keep companies happy.  I have to watch out for how to make me happy.  Accepting a job, any job is not the way I'm going to do that.  I don't want to be driven to stranding strangers around the world.  But already I've thought of that as a way to seek revenge.  I think that's a sign I should be very, very careful before I accept any temporary assignments.  And people should check their travel information thoroughly before leaving home if they ever see me anywhere near their workplace.  It's good to know we've all learned something from this experience.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Smiling Snowman Ornament

I sat down this evening, with my pen and notebook, and looked at our Christmas tree.  The lights were on and it looked lovely.  In particular, looking at it this time, I noticed a snowman decoration.  I love its expression, its hat and its carrot nose.  It is such a joyful looking snowman.

As I looked at this decoration, I wondered where it came from.  I took a look at the back and confirmed that it is one of the ornaments my aunt has sent my son every year.  She paints an ornament and puts a greeting and the date on the back.  This snowman is from 2005.  We lost one of the collection due to breakage but we have all the rest.  It is a special collection.

Earlier today, I was at a mall.  I spent some time browsing in the Christmas sections of a few stores.  I thought I might find some decorative item I liked.  I didn't.  That's ok.

I suppose if I had found something I loved, something that really caught my eye (and was reasonably priced), it would be nice to buy it.  Perhaps it would become a part of our Christmas traditions.  But for a number of reasons, I am glad that I didn't buy anything.  Some of the reasons are quite standard - the spirit of Christmas is not to be found in things, I don't need to spend money on something unnecessary when I could (theoretically at least) donate that money to a worthy cause, we have enough Christmas decorations already.  My primary reason for being glad I bought nothing ties into the last of those reasons but it goes further.

Yes, we have enough Christmas decorations.  Already, there is an element of dread before I decorate for the season and I when I undecorate after the season.  But it's also nice to take some time and appreciate what we have.  If what we have seems like too much "stuff," the individual items have lost their meanings.  So many of the items do have meanings or stories.  Simply looking at that one snowman ornament was a nice experience this evening.  Random items purchased to add to the decor would never offer so much.

Next time I sit down and look at the tree, I will look at another ornament and try to recall its story.  There are the two dogs in stockings that somehow go back to when I was in kindergarten.  There are many ornaments that my husband acquired as he grew up.  My son has different ones.  I have an absolute favourite that has pink and green flowers.  I love them all.

Happily I have found new appreciation for the Christmas beauty already in my home.  I think this extends beyond the Christmas season as well and into our lives.  Appreciating what we have is so much nicer than seeking "it," whatever "it" is, out there.

So now, we will settle in to enjoy the season and hope that the big rabbit doesn't chew the Christmas tree cords and set the tree, presents and anything nearby on fire.  Even if (when) he does that, we won't need to replace every "thing" right away.  But I might ask my aunt to start sending non-flammable ornaments.  It would be nice to have a few sentimental items.



Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Giving of a Gift: Part 2

I had the best of intentions.  But, as I should have remembered, it takes more than the best of intentions to succeed at Christmas shopping.  I thought it would be simple to go buy a Hotpaws neckwarmer.  I meant so well.  This is how my shopping trip went:

1.  I started at Sears and, I suppose, hoped to see a giant standalone display of Hotpaws products.  There was no such display.  I scurried around trying to find what I wanted.  One employee cheerily greeted me.  That confused me; I didn't think to ask her for help.  I found a few Hotpaws products hanging out with other outerwear.  There were no neckwarmers.

2.  Heading to the Bay, I skillfully avoided one of those people who wants everyone (or every woman, at least) to sample a skin concoction.  He was wise to avoid me.  My "Do not approach" vibes worked nicely.  They were a good investment.

3.  The Bay experience was much like that at Sears except everything was a little more crowded in and feelings of hopelessness were settling in.  I was hating the shopping experience by this time.  I considered that maybe the complete product line was only available in the US.  That hardly seemed fair.  When it comes to warm winter gear, Canadians need it all.  I left the Bay.

4.  I went to Shoppers Drug Mart and bought myself a clock radio.  It seemed like the right thing to do.

5.  I bought a cookie and coffee at Starbucks.  I needed stamina.  I ate my cookie at a table but got a look from a woman with 3 small children.  I think she thought she deserved the table more and perhaps she did but I was hungry and quick.  And I was on a quickly deteriorating shopping mission.

6.  I considered looking at an electronic mall directory but a woman collecting for charity was standing awfully close to it.  If I approached, I would feel obligated to donate.  I am in favour of donating but I have already done so.  So has my son.  I can't keep throwing money in.  I think we should wear little hats or something that tell everyone we've already given.  Next I'll have to go shopping for a hat.

7.  I returned to Sears.  I found a sad looking neckwarmer.  It wasn't a Hotpaws product.  I realized, though, that their products would not be any more special.  They're all simply pieces of fleece.  The one I found cost $9.  It seemed so disappointing.  I bought a scarf instead.  It's blue.  I could have bought it in my first few minutes at the mall.  My mission had failed but it was complete. 

I didn't try to make this a complicated, unpleasant affair.  It still turned out that way.  I suppose flexibility would help but it seems that for me, at least, once I'm on a mission to find a certain item, I try really hard to find it.  Does that benefit anyone?  Probably not.  It makes for a bit of an adventure but I don't want to spend time on such adventures for every person on my list.  There are no bonus points given out for trips back and forth in the mall.

Sometimes a certain item is not available or is too hard to find.  That's okay.  Something else will do.  Often, we don't even know that the person would want the gift we're so determined to find.  I still don't know that my dad has a cold neck.  It'd be kind of nice if he does though because I did buy the scarf.

I hope that everyone who is doing Christmas shopping is going easy on themselves and enjoying the process.  Some year, maybe I will too.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Giving of A Gift: Part 1

It's Christmastime and like many, many other people I am trying to come up with suitable gifts for  people (And pets; don't forget the pets).  While the numbers of people in my immediate and extended families may not be large, there are several December birthdays.  I don't hold the timing against these people but I do see that my that my son was wise to avoid the issue and be born early.  December is a busy time.

Some gifts come together easily; for my mother, I had bought a few things, ordered one thing on line and realized I had completed her birthday and Christmas shopping.  It was amazing.  For some people, more effort is required.  For my dad, it's hard to know.  I tend to buy books but I've tended to do that for a while and don't want to overdo it.  I don't want him to cower in fear when he sees another Indigo package arrive.

I saw some ads on tv for Hotpaws.  I don't know what aspect of the ads really caught my attention but Hotpaws makes warm gloves and scarves and I thought they might have something for my dad.  I've had no indication that he suddenly finds himself colder than usual but he goes for walks and it's winter in Canada.  Products to keep warm are necessary.

Looking at the Hotpaws website, I decided the most suitable product was a fleece neckwarmer.  It looked warm and soft.  There would be other presents too but this would be the feature item.

As I thought about the selection of this gift, it occurred to me that, although I can't guarantee whether the neckwarmer would be worn and enjoyed, this was a heartfelt gift.  Yes, it's Christmas and we feel a need to find something and it's a relief when we do.  And yes, it's possible that my Dad has more scarves and other neck-warming items than one person could possibly need.  Within those parameters, however, I would be buying something because I love my Dad and I don't want his neck to be cold.  That's kind of a nice gift.

As we develop gift ideas, it's nice when our motivation is this simple.  It's hard to come up with such ideas for each person on the list but we can try.

(We can also throw out a few hints about what we would like to receive.  I'd like some heartfelt presents too.  And I haven't reached the point when I cower in fear when Indigo packages arrive.)