The snow arrived, just as predicted. Heavy, wet, and deep, it was our biggest snowfall so far this year. It was indeed beautiful, but on this first full day of spring, its charm was diminished. When the party is long over and the hosts are cleaning up, the appearance of a bold new guest tends to be less appreciated. Where were you, Big Snow, in January or February?
On this first day of spring, the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks is menacing the east coast. It’s been dubbed Winter Storm Toby, apparently. A cold rain falls here in northern Virginia, likely turning to snow later in the day. March, we are told, has been colder than February for the second year in a row. It sure feels that way. Every morning, as I check the weather on my phone in preparation for walking with Kiko and our pack, I’m dismayed. Another frigid day, often accompanied by biting winds. I’d hoped to have packed away the long underwear by now.
The famed Nation’s Capital cherry tree blossoms are on hold. The forsythia is making only a half-hearted showing, as are the daffodils. I’ve seen only one crocus. It looked lonely, bedraggled, and full of regret. Not a trace yet of the grape hyacinths I planted two falls ago that bloomed so beautifully last year. Very few touches of green have appeared on winter’s gray-brown palette. Spring remains in hibernation.
March really took to heart that old saying about coming in like a lion. At the beginning of the month, our area, like many parts of the east coast, was besieged by fierce gale-force winds for two days. Uprooted trees and branches, snapped like toothpicks, wreaked havoc on power lines, cars and some homes. A huge pine sliced through the roof of a home in our neighborhood like a sharp knife through a birthday cake. It narrowly missed the little daughter’s bed.
We were lucky. We were spared any property damage, and no family members were trapped on roads or in airports. Our daughter arrived safely home for spring break to a dark and rapidly cooling house, but we had no cause for complaint. (Why, I wonder, must the week of spring break always be among the year’s coldest? Some of the few snows I remember from my college days in Athens occurred during spring break.)
When the winds at last died down and we ventured out to clean up the debris-scattered lawn, I gathered some of the branches blasted from our maple and cherry trees, brought them inside and put them in water. Many of the buds have opened now. Bright green maple seedlings and delicate white cherry blossoms attest to the promise of spring. I have the evidence. The season of new life may be biding its time, but it’s coming.
Spring knew best to wait. The rain here has turned to sleet. Ice crystals weigh heavily on pine branches, and white patches are visible around the bases of trees. May this spring storm be winter’s last.
This year, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day both fall on February 14. The two are unlikely bedfellows, so to speak.
Ash Wednesday is a day for Christians to face our mortality head-on and clear-eyed, to gaze into the bleakness of what would have been, had it not been for God’s saving grace. It marks the start of Lent, the forty-day period leading up to Easter, during which prayer, repentance and self-denial are encouraged. Lent’s Biblical basis is Christ’s retreat to the wilderness to commune with the Father in preparation for his ministry.
Valentine’s Day, on the other hand, needs no explanation. For most of us, it involves the giving and getting of various treats. It’s a day for indulgence, not denial.
To Lenten sticklers for self-abnegation, the concurrence of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day will likely pose a conundrum. To deny or not to deny? Chocolate or no chocolate? Dessert or no dessert? Wine or no wine with that special Valentine dinner? Perhaps a compromise: to begin the denial process on February 15?
I’ve written several times about Ash Wednesday. See: Looking into the Ashes (March 1, 2017), and Saved from the Ashes (February 10, 2016). I’ve tried Lenten self-denial in the past, but I forgot the larger purpose. I neglected the season’s truly spiritual pursuits–prayer, Bible reading, penitential introspection. A couple of times, when I renounced all things sweet, my Lenten journey became little more than a period of dieting. I wince when I recall certain instances of self-righteous forbearance that must have made me a most disagreeable companion. See Mindful Eating, and a Mindful Lent (March 24, 2012).
The purpose of Lent is to try to become more like Christ. Instead, in our singular focus on denial, we become more like the Pharisees, those elite Jewish leaders who prided themselves on following every iota of the Mosaic Law. They were probably among those Jesus denounced for ostentatious fasting: “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get.” (Matthew 6: 16, New Living Translation) Jesus called out the Pharisees for their empty, showy arrogance and for the stumbling blocks they set up for others: “You shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either” (Matthew 23: 13). Overly zealous regarding trivial details, they missed the big picture: “You are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law–justice, mercy and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23: 23-24).
On this Ash Wednesday, I look into the dark ashes and contemplate Jesus’s supreme sacrifice. I give thanks that his unimaginable love lifts me from the depths of destruction and despair.
On this Valentine’s Day, If I know my husband, he’ll come home with a big box of Russell Stover’s candy.
During Lent, I will try to take Jesus as my role model. I will keep my Bible close at hand. And I will eat some chocolates. I may also swallow a few gnats. But I hope to avoid the camels.
Happy Ash Valentine’s Day!
On this first day of the new year, as I look back to 2017, I must say “Whew!” Last year was packed to excess with major life changes for our family. It felt like a Netflix series with too many unlikely, simultaneous subplots. I’m hoping that in 2018 I’ll have time to appreciate the scenery and enjoy some quirky character development.
The stressful process of selling and packing up my mother’s Atlanta home, buying the Virginia house, the complicated logistics of the relocation–that’s all behind us. Now Mama is next door, mere steps away. While the two weeks following her surgery were perhaps even more miserable than her surgeons had expected, she can now move without excruciating pain, sometimes without the aid of her walker. She made the trek on Christmas day from her place to ours and back, as I had hoped.
The anxiety surrounding my daughter’s college decision is fading into the mists of memory. After a period of adjustment, she’s very happy at the University of Virginia. We all appreciate the fact that she’s a pleasant two-hour drive away from home. An additional plus is that when she’s here, she has a greater appreciation for her parents (and grandmother). Those mundane, homely comforts–my cooking, her own room, Kiko sleeping sweetly–all 0nce taken for granted, are now recognized as the luxuries they are. And time zips by. The breaks–fall, winter, and soon, spring–are upon us before we know it.
When I was searching for an appropriate New Year’s photo, this one of my daughter as Glinda the Good Witch in her last high school musical, The Wizard of Oz, came to mind. Glinda looks into the distance towards a vision of the glowing Emerald City, which, with a little help from her white magic, has just been revealed. She’s about to send Dorothy and friends off on the final leg of their journey to Oz. So in a way, she’s looking into the future. Toward a new year.
Glinda sings this song as she points toward the bright horizon:
You’re out of the woods, you’re out of the dark,
You’re out of the night.
Step into the sun, step into the light.
Keep straight ahead
For the most glorious place on the face of the earth or the sky.
Hold onto your breath, hold onto your heart,
Hold onto your hope.
We all get lost from time to time in the metaphorical woods. But may you start out this new year on a good path, heading toward a good place, in good company. When you wander off track, may you find your way quickly back into the light. And may hope and love go with you.
On this Christmas and all year long,
may you be blessed with countless opportunities
to share your gifts,
to magnify joy,
to spread love.
May you kindle God’s light
so that all will know with unwavering certainty:
The darkness shall not overcome it.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
As has become our custom, our family spends the latter part of Christmas Eve afternoon at our church’s live nativity. The day was chilly and gray, the ground muddy, as usual. The friendly beasts were in attendance–the stocky little burro, the hump-backed ox with the coat of gray velvet, the fluffy, disheveled sheep, a variety of curious goats.
Kiko was obstinately determined to sniff out every furry friend.
The sweet-tempered camel was there, of course. A gracious celebrity, as well as a commanding and unexpected presence in the DC suburbs, he posed patiently for photos.
He even gave out a few kisses.
Humans took turns in the roles of the Holy Family, angels, shepherds and kings. Baby Jesus, to the disappointment of several young families, was played by a doll. Sometimes Mary and Joseph were fourteen, sometimes forty. Occasionally the costumes fit well, other times, not so much. Hems tended toward the mud-stained. Gender was fluid. One of our shepherds, in his attempts to drum up even more attention from passers-by, appeared to be hitchhiking.
It wasn’t a flawless performance piece, by far. But it didn’t need to be. Who else but ordinary, imperfect people does God use to do his extraordinary work?
The rushing Northern Virginia traffic was forced to slow down, if briefly, as it passed our live nativity. Many people even put their Christmas Eve plans on hold, parked their cars and explored the scene first hand. Most left with a camel selfie. Some, we hope, caught a glimmer of a greater truth.
He is born, the holy Child, play the oboe and bagpipes merrily! He is born, the holy Child, sing we all of the Savior mild.
Through long ages of the past, prophets have foretold His coming, through long ages of the past, now the time has come at last!
O how lovely, O how pure, is this perfect child of heaven, O how lovely, O how pure, gracious gift to human-kind!
Jesus, Lord of all the world, coming as child among us, Jesus, Lord of all the world, grant to us thy heavenly peace.
Il est né, le divin Enfant, jouez haut-bois rèsonnez musettes! Il est né, le divin Enfant, chantons tous son avènement!
–18th Century French carol
Since I began Wild Trumpet Vine, I’ve written about forty Christmas-themed posts. Back in December of 2011, there was so much to cover, but now I run the risk of repeating myself. And during this holiday season, time for writing will be limited. My mother’s spinal surgery has been scheduled for early December. Her doctors have emphasized that the recovery will likely be difficult and painful. I’m grateful that Mama is here with us in Virginia as we face this challenge together. I’m also very thankful I have no career or young children to neglect as I care for her.
My mother and I certainly won’t be creating any handmade decorations this year, as we did during my childhood. See Working Like Elves (December 8, 2011). But I hope that as she heals, she’ll occasionally feel up to laughing about our shared adventures and misadventures of Christmases past. Maybe we’ll revisit the question of the hideous tree we chose our first year in Atlanta (Oh, Eww, Christmas Tree, December 18, 2013).
Around mid-month, our daughter will be home after finishing her first semester at the University of Virginia. She’ll want my mother’s new home to be cheery for the season, so I expect we’ll unpack some of the old decorations we moved this summer from Mama’s Atlanta attic. Maybe she’ll persuade her grandmother to reminisce about long-ago Christmases in central Kentucky. See Unsilvered WWII-Era Ornaments on a Kentucky Cedar, and Uncle Edwin’s Silver Stocking, (December 23, 2015).
I haven’t begun to think about Christmas gifts; I don’t know if I’ll even get around to shopping. It’s reassuring to know that if I don’t, my family won’t hold it against me. H and D will make sure there are presents for everyone under the tree. Creative gifting and innovative packaging are among their talents. See several posts on Exercises in Extreme Giftwrapping. By the time Christmas morning dawns, maybe Mama will be able to walk across the grass from her house to ours without the pain that assaults her now with each step. That’s the only gift on my wish list this December.
From years past, a few more of my favorite Christmas posts:
We’re All Family Here (December 25, 2012)
Lighting up the Night for Christmas (December 7, 2012)
The Holiday Newsletter Quandary (December 16, 2011)
Little Old Christmas Treasures (December 23, 2011)
Cape Cod Shell Angels (December 20, 2011)
Just in Case . . . (December 4, 2016)
This Thanksgiving we begin what I hope will be a new tradition: dinner at my mother’s new house here in Virginia. Our family’s long Atlanta chapter came to an end this summer. Our daughter is on break from her first semester of college. We’re all Virginia residents. Holidays should find us together, easily, no travel required.
May you have the luxury of giving thanks for many blessings this day, surrounded by friends and family, in an atmosphere of peace and joy.
This past summer, we were treated to not just one, but two spontaneous squash gardens in our front yard. The expected pumpkin patch popped up in the maple stump compost pile, as it has for the past two years. (See posts from November 2016 and July 2015.) Another, even larger, sprang up in the mulch bed nearby. The hard-working, fast-moving vines claimed many square feet of ground, producing big fuzzy green leaves and bright yellow blossoms.
Pale yellow pumpkins, elongated ovals, grew from some of the flowers. Others produced dark green fruit of similar shape. And still other buds grew into beautifully ornamental gourds of yellow and green, some warty, others with smoother skin. In the photo above, a knobby-skinned gourd is partially visible just to the left of the pumpkin. I found no discernible differences in the foliage, although two types of vines must have been present.
Many small proto-pumpkins appeared, but most were claimed by squirrels or deer. Our fall harvest consists of the three tall guys in front.
The gourds were evidently much less popular with the critters. A few succumbed to nibbles, but seven small long-necked gourds survived until fall.
The spontaneous pumpkin patch is the lazy pseudo-gardener’s dream, as it requires neither planning nor planting by human hands. Simply compost pumpkins past their prime, and let nature take its course. This year’s harvest could fill a sizeable Thanksgiving cornucopia to overflowing. I wonder what our little patch of earth will bring forth next year?
All is safely gathered in, ‘ere the winter storms begin.