On Good Friday, we give thanks to a loving, compassionate God who suffers with us. Our God is not a remote, impassive being who rules from on high. He came down to our level; he entered into the midst of our messy lives. Jesus, our brother, gave his own life to save us, his unworthy siblings. He died for us while we were yet sinners. He knows our worst pain, because he has endured it first-hand: betrayal, sorrow, humiliation, physical agony, and death. God the Father knows intimately the terrible reality of losing a child. Our God continues to suffer as we suffer. He grieves as we grieve, because we are his. We are family. Our God surrounds us with his Holy Spirit, as close as our own breath, to sustain and comfort us.
Good Friday is good because our God is good. This day commemorates the completion of Jesus’s mission. From the cross, he cried out, “It is finished.” The perfect sacrifice has been made, salvation has been accomplished, and we are redeemed.
An easy, stress-free approach to egg decorating (much appreciated after our Ukrainian conflagration) is this technique for marbleizing eggs. Having learned a valuable lesson, we began by boiling our eggs. We used the dye tablets from a typical kids’ egg decorating kit, added a drop or two of olive oil, and immersed the eggs. The results are pretty, if subtle. No unusual tools, hot wax or flames required.
We wanted very pale colors for these eggs.
Darker hues, of course, are possible using longer dyeing times.
One year, Mama sent a kit for decorating eggs in the traditional Ukrainian style. A far more ambitious undertaking than our decoupage eggs, it required actual skill in addition to careful planning and immense reserves of patience.
We knew immediately that the intricate, perfect geometry of the typical Ukrainian patterns were beyond us, so we opted for simplified, free-form designs. We diligently followed the detailed instructions, using the writing tool called the kistka to draw a design with hot beeswax. We then immersed the egg in one of the dye colors. This drawing and dyeing process was repeated several times. Finally, we removed the wax by holding the egg near a candle flame. We managed to create some attractive and unique eggs that bore no resemblance at all to those pictured in the kit.
We might have completed the project without incident had the eggs been less fragile. As instructed, we used raw eggs. And as we learned, one tends to grip an egg firmly while drawing on it with an unfamiliar, hot-wax dispensing tool. Sometimes one grips too firmly, resulting in an egg being launched, missile-like, across the room. The shattered egg stirred up the sudden and fiery wrath of my daughter. Just as quickly, I was ignited by her anger. Engulfed in a fit akin to spontaneous combustion, I hurled the egg I was holding onto the kitchen floor. I threw this egg (nearly-completed and painstakingly designed), with considerable force, making the inevitable clean-up all the more painful. In a household of flammable tempers, holiday decorating has its perils.
The kit, showing some ideal Ukrainian designs.
Only a few of our Ukrainian-inspired eggs survive.
Egg decorating has always been a major concern at our house during the week before Easter. My mother’s love of Easter crafts is almost as pronounced as her devotion to Christmas decorations. In order to ensure the continuation of the family tradition, nearly every spring she sends new ideas for egg decorating or a specialty kit. Several years ago, thanks to Mama, my daughter and I tried our hand at decoupage eggs. This is a fun and relatively child-friendly approach to egg decorating. It requires minimal skill, a bit of patience, and a tolerance for sticky fingers. An appreciation for Mod Podge is a plus. The results can be very charming.
Some of our favorite decoupage egg designs.
On Palm Sunday Jesus was hailed as a celebrity, a military and political hero-to-be. As he and his disciples entered the city of Jerusalem, adoring, cheering crowds greeted them. The news was out: at long last, the King of Israel was here. He was the chosen one sent by God to restore power to the Jewish nation. He rode on a donkey to fulfill the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9: See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey.
It was a time of great rejoicing for the people of Israel. A new day of freedom and empowerment was dawning, thanks to the advent of the conquering Messiah. The palm branches they waved were emblems of Israeli nationalism.
In just a few days, though, the tide would turn. The admiring throngs would scatter when it became clear that Jesus was not the kind of king they had desired and expected. Even his dearest friends would desert him. He would be betrayed by one of his own, turned over to the Roman authorities and crucified. On Good Friday, it would appear that this man was no winner.
Good Friday, however, is not the end of the story.
My favorite memories of Valentine’s Day as an adult have nothing to do with romance. This is not a complaint about my husband. I have known great romance, much of it with him. Even when he could barely afford it, he did Valentine’s Day right. When we were first dating, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world because he had chosen me. But we were busy grad students, and it was also a stressful time. He was anxious about classes, research in the lab, and the daunting prospect of, say, the final in physics of gases. I was teaching and trying to make some preliminary headway on my dissertation. February was an especially angst-ridden month. In the early stages of our relationship, when Valentine’s Day could have been best enjoyed, we simply had too much on our minds.
Therefore, my happiest grown-up Valentine experiences occurred when my daughter was in preschool. I would arrive at church to pick her up. Unless there was snow, the kids would be out on the playground. D and her friends would probably be climbing on the little blue playhouse, or see-sawing vigorously on the green plastic alligator. She was adorable in her red fleece Scandinavian-style jacket and matching hat (both made by Mama), and her multi-colored Elephanten suede shoes. When she saw me standing at the fence, she’d smile delightedly, as though I were the most marvelous surprise. She’d yell out Mama! in her sweet, unmistakable voice. She was excited to see me, to tell me about her day, to show me her Valentines and the special holiday craft she had made.
Once home, we would open her cards and spread them out on the playroom floor. Some were accompanied by candy, cookies, or tiny toys. We’d examine each Valentine, noting who sent each one. Did the child write his or her own name, or did a parent do it? This was a question of great interest to a preschooler. The cards were small and cute, bearing images of such childhood icons as Cassie from Dragon Tales, Scooby-Doo, Clifford, Barbie and Winnie-the-Pooh. There were always a few charming homemade cards.
After we had gone through all the cards, I would give D her Valentine gifts from H and me. These usually included a stuffed animal, maybe a fuzzy white bear with red accents, holding a heart-shaped balloon. No such gift was ever less than perfect. My daughter was always elated, always satisfied. She would giggle and hug her bear tight. She’d sleep with it that night. It was so easy. What could be better? These were enchanted, fool-proof Valentine’s Days.
The preschool years may be the optimum time to enjoy the holiday fully. Preschoolers are enthusiastic about the cards, the candy, the gifts, the festive snacks. Nothing is complicated, but this will change before long. The early elementary school years bring difficulties that tarnish the day: competition, rivalries, mismatched puppy-love crushes, disappointment.
If you’re like me, and didn’t go to preschool, maybe you had, or will have, the good fortune to savor the simple pleasures of the day through the eager eyes of a child.
And now that Valentine’s Day 2012 is history, I propose a toast to a cheerfully comfortable second half of February!
Pure Valentine pleasure!
Some of the Valentine gifts that met with my daughter’s complete approval.
As sophomores we got with the program. The three of us sent flowers to each other, the envelopes signed “from a Secret Admirer.” As an investment, we also bought carnations for several boys in our circle. We chose funny, thoughtful boys who were likely to return the favor next year. When the flowers were delivered, we each received an additional one from a senior boy who had taken a big-brotherly interest in the three of us. Getting three carnations, even if none was from a potential boyfriend, was far preferable to walking around all day with none.
The next year, the boys did their duty, and by that time, we all got a couple of flowers from other friends. We had learned how to work it, and the annual event had become almost enjoyable.
By senior year, the day was a real pleasure. My two old friends and I were closer than ever. We each sent a number of carnations and received quite a few. I had a boyfriend by then, and he came through with candy, as well. How wonderful to receive Valentine candy I could feel good about! My friends and I made GQ-spoof magazines for our favorite boys. We wrote silly captions for clippings snipped from National Lampoon, Seventeen, and a French fan magazine our teacher had suggested we subscribe to. We called it Hunky-Stud Quarterly: The Magazine for Discerning Gentlemen. We found it hilarious. The boys, though pleased, were probably not quite as bowled over by our humor.
It took us four years, but we had mastered the art of the high school Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, we had to start from scratch again the following year, because things were different in college.
My carnation cards from Valentine’s Day, senior year (of course I saved them).
A rare edition of Hunky-Stud Quarterly. I have this copy because my high school boyfriend returned everything I had ever given him after we broke up. He left it all on the front porch in the middle of the night. Evidently he knew I would appreciate it more than he did.
And he was right.
One of my favorite childhood memories is sitting at the kitchen table, eating cinnamon red hots and making Valentines. I can see the bright February sunshine warming up the room. Popi would be sleeping nearby on the dining room rug. After a while we’d hear Daddy’s car come up the driveway as he arrived home from work. Before long it would be time for dinner. It’s a vision of complete, homey contentment.
When I was little, my mother and I would make our Valentines together. We’d each make one for Daddy, and she would help me with those I gave out to my classmates. We used all the typical materials: red and pink construction paper, doilies, flowers and hearts that we cut from old greeting cards. As I got older I might use watercolors to paint my own designs. Our supplies were far more limited in those days. There were no stores that stocked a nearly infinite variety of stickers, archival papers, fancy cutters, punches and the like. Martha Stewart was still just a hardworking caterer.
The preparatory time was what I enjoyed most. The lead-up was always better than the day itself. I have few recollections of an actual Valentine’s Day during elementary school. The clearest memory I have is painful. In fifth grade, a boy gave me a heart-shaped box of Valentine candy. Of course, he was not a boy that I “liked,” so the gesture made me feel sad and uncomfortable. I wished I liked him. I knew how he felt; I was familiar with the misery of unrequited love. I liked another boy who didn’t like me. Fortunately, though, I hadn’t given him a special gift that made me feel even worse.
This seemed to set the pattern for my Valentine’s Days throughout middle and high school. A card, flower or candy, if one came, would be from a nice boy I didn’t like. If I ventured out and gave a gift, it was unlikely to be reciprocated. Although I kept my expectations low, the day was either mildly disappointing or fraught with anxiety. Best, then, to enjoy making cards for my parents and a few extras that I could pin on my bulletin board, eat red hots, and appreciate the winter light.
Sitting by the kitchen window prompted me to paint this Valentine tree. I painted lots of heart-trees during my early teens.
They were easier than trees with other foliage.
This heart is made from strips of rolled paper, inspired by a library book Mama found on the art of quilling. Now, there are kits to do this type of thing.
Each year at Christmas, my husband presses on in his family’s tradition of extreme gift wrapping. He grew up in a family of resolutely creative wrappers, in which every gift receives special holiday treatment, from the lowliest pair of socks to the largest, most cumbersome, difficult-to-wrap object. Major appliances have been gift-wrapped by his family. They welcome, even seek out, challenges in wrapping. They invest considerable time and energy toward disguising the gift. Tiny items are encased in enormous boxes, and objects with a characteristic, recognizable shape are concealed in containers of an utterly different form. The wrapping paper is exuberant in color and pattern.
The differences in our two family’s wrapping philosophies recall our approaches to the recognition of birthdays and other special events. H’s family remains determined to celebrate all occasions, and inventive wrapping is a big part of the celebration. My parents continue to give thoughtful and lovely gifts. But they regard the birthdays of adults, as I’ve said before, as events best mentioned quietly, if at all. I grew up hearing the admonition: “Don’t get beside yourself.” In the eyes of my parents, showing too much enthusiasm is bit unseemly; it’s something to be avoided, or at least denied. H’s family, on the other hand, is happy to get beside themselves. During birthdays and on Christmas, they revel in it.
Now that I’m familiar with both approaches, I can appreciate the merits, and the drawbacks, of each.
This year my husband’s extreme wrapping scored especially high marks. He enclosed three gifts for our daughter in tubes used for forming concrete, 48 inches long and up to 16 inches in diameter. An inexpensive wrapping solution with a big wow factor. None of the objects were vaguely cylindrical in shape, of course. The first tube appeared by the tree early in the morning, three days before Christmas. On the following two days, another, successively larger, tube appeared.
Our daughter was merrily intrigued, and she responded in kind. She searched in the basement until she found a suitably unusual container for one last gift for her dad: a tall plastic laundry hamper. She took it to her room and, using two kinds of paper, an abundance of tape, and an uncharacteristically substantial degree of patience, performed a wrapping coup. The shape may perhaps best be described as an oval trapezoidal prism.
On Christmas morning, the tubes and the hamper were the final gifts unwrapped. Both H and D were exultant as they pulled off paper and worked their way to the gifts inside the strange packages. The excitement was catching. Not even my parents, who are here with us this Christmas as usual, were immune. I think I can speak for both sides of the family now when I say that once in a while, getting beside yourself is recommended.
The first two mystery tubes appear.
The three tubes, with one tiny tube on top. My shoe-storage package is in front.
The oval trapezoidal prism.