Once Again, Ash Valentine’s Day

This year, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day both fall on February 14.  The last time this happened was in 2018.  I know, because I wrote about it back then.  What follows is my post from six years ago, with a few minor changes. 

These two holidays are unlikely bedfellows, so to speak.  Ash Wednesday is a day when Christians are urged to face 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.  It’s a day for celebrating love in all its forms. It typically 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’ve been known to lose track of the larger purpose.  The season’s truly spiritual pursuits–prayer, Bible reading, penitential introspection–they sometimes were left in the dust (or the ashes) of Ash Wednesday.  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 tended to miss 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 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 Valentine’s Day, I’ve usually painted cards for family members, sometimes also for friends. There will be candy for my mother and daughter. I try to cook one of my husband’s favorite meals. If I’m really on top of things, I’ll make the caramel-topped sponge cake, or the sugar cookies he likes. (I apologize in advance this year, when there will be no homemade desserts.) H may come home with a box of Russell Stover’s candy–maybe the Assorted Cremes? He knows that’s my favorite. He’s also learned over the years that I’m not a fan of that traditional over-priced Valentine staple–the bouquet of dark red roses.

During Lent, I’ll try to take Jesus as my role model. I’ll keep my Bible close at hand.  I’ll eat some chocolates.  I may also swallow a few gnats. 

But I hope to avoid the camels.  

Happy Ash Valentine’s Day!

On a Snowy Morning, Pleasantly Dog-less

This morning started off snowy, just as the Capital Weather Gang had predicted.  It wasn’t the kind of peacefully falling snow that gently whispers “Winter Wonderland.”  It was the heavy, wet, swirling kind, powered by gusting winds.  The kind against which no hat, scarf, hood or umbrella offers any buffer.  It’s everywhere at once, especially in eyes, boot tops and inside jacket cuffs.  

And so it was a good morning to appreciate being without a dog requiring an extensive walk, no matter the weather.  I’m still up and out most mornings, but by necessity only briefly, to replenish the seed smorgasbord I offer the birds and squirrels.  And then, from the warm comfort of our playroom, I can watch the ongoing parade of wildlife, both feathered and furry, that flourishes just beyond our windows. 

Every once in a while I glance out and think I see Kiko. Occasionally there’s the briefest moment of panic, as I mistake one of the bold neighborhood foxes for our dear departed dog. There’s that lush red fur, those eternally pointy ears, the fixed, focused stare, the poised stance.

It’s as though he never left, but simply moved outside.

A welcome thought on this cold, blustery morning, when I can happily remain indoors.

Starting Off with one Wrong Shoe?

Most of us recognize the old expression “to start off on the wrong foot.” I’ll be bold and speak for myself and my fellow humans, and say that we have done, and continue to do this repeatedly.

And then there’s the saying “to put the shoe on the wrong foot.” I’ve probably done that literally, a few times, although I can’t remember any specifics. It’s the kind of thing one likes to forget. Metaphorically though, I know I’ve done it frequently.

But what about “to wear one wrong shoe?” It’s not an expression with which I’m familiar. But after the first morning outing of the new year with my dog-walking pack, it’s a phrase I’ve been considering.

Yesterday, round about the halfway point on the walk, a friend noticed that I was wearing two different shoes. “Maybe it was intentional?,” she suggested, graciously offering me the benefit of the doubt.

But no. It was unintended. I was clearly not attempting a bold fashion statement, like the occasional celebrity swanning down the red carpet in deliberately mismatched eight-inch fuchsia Manolo Blahniks. Nor had I even been aware of the difference. As usual, I’d picked out two boots from the dim jumble of the hall closet (which includes the vacuum and its various attachments). And put them on without really looking. I remember thinking one felt a little odd. Even then, as I examined it, I didn’t notice I was wearing an unmatched pair.

“At least they’re both boots,” another friend commented.

Yes. An excellent point. And much alike in shape and color, I will add. One boot was older, with more wear. But not old enough, and not worn enough, to be discarded just yet. And speaking as an older person, one who shows more wear, I will absolutely not say that the older shoe is the wrong one.

I’d like to glean some wisdom from this little anecdote. Maybe it’s that we tend to walk with more confidence, and less awkwardness, when both shoes are of a pair. A match, though, is not absolutely necessary, and maybe not always even preferable, depending upon the circumstances.

But maybe the real point of the story is this: surround yourself with friends who are willing to stick by you, no matter what shoes you happen to wear. When we walk with the right pack, a kind and thoughtful pack, no shoe can be wrong.

May this new year find you journeying along with just such a pack.

Lighting up the Darkness, 2023

Throughout our home during the Christmas season, little lights shine in the darkness. It’s one way that we mark these weeks, from Advent to Epiphany, as a special time. A time set apart from the ordinary.

The dining room sideboard glows with an illuminated miniature house and twin topiaries.

Also in the dining room, three little alpine trees, decorated largely with homemade shell ornaments. The trees provide a base for the humble clothespin nativity.

In our newly finished attic space, a miniature village, decorated for the season.

Of course, each house has its Christmas wreaths.

Lights and ornaments on the big tree in the living room.

Atop a bookcase in the family room, the holy family, their donkey, with a shepherd and his sheep.

The three Magi and their camel approach from atop an adjacent armoire.

May the light of Christmas warm your heart this season and throughout the year!

Moon Glow (on the Second-to-Longest Night)

Yesterday, as I was anticipating tonight’s longest night of the year, I thought about our deep-seated human need for light and warmth. Scarcity drives demand, and the short, dark, cold days of winter require us to feed the need through creative means. We devise inventive ways to kindle the fire indoors, to bring the comfort of light and heat into our homes. And possibly, we hope, into our hearts.

For some reason, I stepped outside. I saw the moon. And it was spectacular. Against a dark blue backdrop dotted with small white puffy clouds, the bright half-moon was encircled by a halo of iridescent rings. It looked rather like a glowing opal hovering in the sky. Late last month, during a chilly night walk, my daughter and I marveled at a wide pearly circle around the moon. It was lovely, but it lacked the dazzling colors that I witnessed last night.

What causes a ring around the moon? I’ve often wondered, but never sought out the answer. Now I know. To put it very simply, in terms I can comprehend, it’s produced by light shining through ice crystals high up in the atmosphere, and therefore more likely to occur in colder months.

I almost didn’t attempt a photo. I knew it wouldn’t come close to capturing the beauty I saw firsthand. But I gave it a try, and the resulting images were better than I had expected.

As winter descends and night falls way too early, I’m grateful that many rooms in our old farmhouse will soon be glowing softly with strands of miniature white lights. The day has become cloudy; the sky looks like a white sheet. It’s doubtful that a magical, rainbow-ringed moon will be visible tonight, on this longest night. But, as the old year ends and a new one begins, the vision of that strikingly haloed moon will remind me to look up and out on clear nights. It will prompt me to be ever thankful for a message I treasure always, but especially during these short, cold days. It’s the hope and promise of Christmas:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can not overcome it.

Gospel of John, 1:5

Snow? Yes, Snow!

After a mild day of rain, Northern Virginians awoke this morning to a sight not seen in over a year: snow! There wasn’t much, just enough to coat grassy areas, branches and foliage. But it’s more than we received during all of last winter.

The slushy layer of ice on stone and pavement made me appreciate not having a dog to walk.

The abundant fallen black walnuts in our yard were topped with little snow domes.

By now it’s been two weeks since we began decorating for Christmas. As usual, it doesn’t seem like the holidays should be almost upon us. But the snow provided an undeniable note of seasonal authenticity.

Against the snowy backdrop, in the gray dimness of early morning, the sparkling lights of the small tree on our back porch seemed to declare: It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

I guess it really is that time of year!

It’s Election Day! Go Vote!

For various reasons, Slim is no longer legally registered to vote.  This is unfortunate.  He continues to be a highly informed citizen and an ardent supporter of our democratic process.  As a dedicated student of history, he knows how crucial it is to explore the many sides of every issue.  His advice for today’s voting public:  seek out multiple reputable sources, read, listen and question.  Think critically.  Remember that life is complicated.  Be wary of anyone claiming to have a really simple answer. 

And never think that your one vote, or your voice, is unimportant!

Halloween 2023, with Slim and the Pack

I knew I needn’t worry that Slim would sleep through Halloween. When he awoke a short while later, he was refreshed from his attic nap and eager to make the final preparations for the evening. This year marked a return to long-established pre-covid traditions; our neighborhood trick-or-treaters would once again be ringing doorbells.

Slim was not about to forego one of his favorite annual customs: the celebratory Halloween joyride. This event had been much beloved by Kiko, even though he typically spent most of the ride in a deep snooze. Slim maintained, as he had last year, that it was a requisite to honoring his furry buddy’s memory.

And an excuse to buy more candy. Slim’s mantra in this respect echoes the Meatloaf song: “Too much is never enough!”

Plus, ever since his first time behind the wheel of his dad’s Model T, Slim has loved to drive.

Slim and the pack were back in plenty of time to tweak the orange and green house lighting and take their places. “The spooky hour approaches, gang,” he cried, “as do little feet.”

With a successful big night behind them, the friends are kicking back. Chilling for a bit, as Slim ponders the direction his artistic pursuits will lead him. I expect to have skeletons in the attic for the foreseeable future. We should all be so lucky.

Happy November to all!

A blog about motherhood, marriage and life: the joys and frustrations, beauty and absurdity, blessings and pain. It's about looking back, looking ahead, and walking the dog.