Category Archives: Holiday

Father’s Day 2024

Daddy and I, July 1965, in Lebanon, KY.

A particular image of my father has taken up residence in my mind recently. I see him sitting at our kitchen table in our house in Atlanta. He has a map open–a fold-up highway map, the kind we used to buy at gas stations and welcome centers–those old ones that today’s young adults have rarely seen. He has a pen in hand, and he’s cheerfully planning the route for an upcoming trip. The destination is likely to be one with which he’s very familiar. Probably it’s a town in central or eastern Kentucky, to visit family. Even near home, Daddy didn’t like to follow the same path twice. Mama said that was one reason she never learned her way around Atlanta. Daddy enjoyed driving, and he was good at it. He’d had considerable practice, as he’d been driving since he was twelve or so. He was born in 1929, and he learned on a Model T. I always knew that if I needed a ride somewhere–anywhere accessible by car–Daddy could, and would, gladly oblige.

Mama remembers how Daddy poured over such a map while my husband and I were on our way to New Jersey after our marriage in the fall of 1995. I was moving away, and this time, it seemed likely to be for good. Before, I’d always returned after a few years. H and I were in a packed U-Haul, with my little Rabbit convertible behind on a trailer. Because we left later in the day, we spent a night on the road in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. When I called home to report our safe arrival, Daddy quickly picked up the phone. He’d been worried about us. (He didn’t yet know that I’d perhaps married as capable and confident a driver as he.)

My husband and I with the moving van in Atlanta, November 1995.

“I’m so relieved to hear your voice!,” he exclaimed. “I think I drove every mile with you!”

Daddy was not a man who cried easily or often. But Mama said she remembers him shedding some tears that evening, as he worried over the map.

H with the van in Carlisle. The trailer for my small car was huge, and could easily have held a Cadillac. As H said, “We were long.”

On this Father’s Day, and every day, I’m grateful to be my father’s daughter. I know that wherever life takes me, no matter how treacherous the road, Daddy is there beside me, every mile.

My husband and my father in Atlanta, December 1996.

Somehow now the years have spun by like the numbers on the oven timer, and H and I are a married couple past middle age, with a daughter of our own. She’s twenty-five, a young career woman, living in another state. But it’s Maryland, and she’s still nearby. So far, we’re lucky that way. I know that she, too, counts herself fortunate to be her father’s daughter. She can be sure that her Dada, like her dear Papa, will be forever at her side, driving with her every mile.

For another post on my sweet Daddy, see here.

Once Again, and Daily, May We Honor our Hometown Heroes

The Hometown Hero banners are up again along the quiet main streets of little towns throughout upstate New York. They honor men and women currently serving in our armed forces. Most of the faces are young. So, so very young. They look down from flag-draped lamp posts along Union Street in the little village of Spencerport. Some are smiling, appearing hopeful and excited. Others are stoically stern. All of them should break our hearts.

Let’s carry such young faces with us, every day. May they be living reminders of the reality of the ongoing sacrifice taking place continually, here and in far-flung spots, for our precious American freedoms. Let’s honor these soldiers, like my twenty-one year old nephew in the Marines, who offer up years of their youth so that we may remain the unique country that our founders envisioned.

Keeping these young faces in our minds and hearts, let’s behave better toward one another. Let’s remember that they’re toiling now to keep us free. Free to voice our own opinions, and free to disagree with one another. But when we disagree, let us strive to do so with grace, thoughtfulness and kindness, recognizing our common humanity. So that we might discover common ground. And so that we won’t take impulsive actions that will jeopardize the republic for which these young heroes fight.

Also on Spencerport’s Union Street lies peaceful Fairfield Cemetery, which I first explored on a walk five years ago with my dog Kiko. As Memorial Day approaches, the graves of the war dead are decorated with American flags. Pictured above is the monument to those from the area who gave their lives defending our Union during the Civil War. Let us remember the devastating cost of a nation divided, and of going to war against one another.

As this viciously polarized election season ramps up, let’s take a deep breath and consider that our hard-won democracy might indeed be fragile. Let’s make choices that show we value the sacrifice of all our hometown heroes, of today and generations past. Let’s remember that they have fought and died, and continue to fight, to protect us from falling prey to tyrants. Let’s pay close attention. Let’s not be misguided by anger and spitefulness. Let’s be informed and seek the truth, even when it’s not the truth we want to hear. Let us not be fooled. Let us recognize those who try to manipulate us into willingly laying down our invaluable freedoms.

Long may our land be bright with freedom’s holy light!

America, Samuel Smith, 1832

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!

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!