Christmas. Just one week away.

How much a non-day event this becomes the older I get. Not a NON-day actually. Every 24-hour cycle is, technically, a day.

What I should have said is what an ANY day Christmas has turned into over the years. “Special” only because our society and our culture and our religious norms and the calendar itself say it’s so. The requisite time spent with family during the holidays – images of jolly laughter, yuletide carols, warmth and comradery – feels forced, somehow. Contrived. In reality, this time of year is often more stressful and chaotic than it is calming and cleansing. Expectations are high, emboldened by the trappings of social media, for a glitzy, candle-shrouded, Hallmark Cards experience to rival anything Hollywood could muster up on the big screen. We’re bombarded with photographs and images, tweets and postings positively dripping with hygge-inspired loveliness that render our drab, ordinary lives pathetic by comparison.

Here’s an idea. What say we treat every day as special, each day a Christmas? Loving one another, treasuring the earth, showing kindness, embracing gratitude every 24-hour cycle. And for good measure – and for sanity’s sake for ALL of us – let’s shrug off what we think and believe others are doing and how others are living their lives and just focus on what makes US happy for a change?

Now that would be cause for celebration.

No snow yet and temps continue their mild streak again this week. Perfect for taking long walks with puppy but snow – for Christmas – would be lovely. There’s still time of course, but a winter wonderland lends a seasonal framework for holiday cheer, snow lightly falling, Nat King Cole in the background singing of chestnuts and open fires, children sledding, their rosy cheeks and smiles as infectious as all get out, warm mugs of hot chocolate in hand and all that white beauty, well, it really does just do a body – and soul – a whole lot of good.

Precipitation is necessary, too, for Iowa crops next spring, for its rivers, streams and lakes, for trees and grasses, bushes and shrubs, tulips, crocuses, daffodils and luscious green hostas bordering April/May flower beds. The last several winters have produced little, and sometimes, NO snow. More and more, I’m hearing others echo my same concerns over this troubling lack of winter precipitation and warmer temperatures during the dormant months of December, January, February and March.

The climate here in central Iowa (and elsewhere) does appear to be shifting, changing, morphing into something other than what I’ve experienced – and loved – throughout my sixty-one years on this planet. Disclaimer: I adore each one of Iowa’s four seasons! However, extreme weather is another shared – and talked about – new phenomenon. This past year began most noticeably (following yet another above average warm, dry winter) with roller-coaster ups and downs of abnormal-for-the-time-of-year temperatures and precipitation.

April 2018 was frigid. May was HOT. Summer was a beast (delightful spring days skipped us entirely). Autumn, surely, would not disappoint. Oh, how I eagerly awaited those beautiful blue skies, colorful fall foliage and cool, crisp October afternoons.

Um, no.

It rained and rained and then rained some more. And it was COLD, not pleasantly, achingly refreshing cool and crisp but downright bitterly uncomfortable, windy, damp and miserable.

Who knows what the winter of 2018-2019 will bring? Right now – and at the moment I’m not really complaining, mind you – we’re enjoying some mid-December warmth and bright sunny days. I can’t help but wonder though if this isn’t a harbinger of what the next four months will be like. While I do like it now – today – it’s not what I want, like or expect of the most wonderful time of the year, let alone Old Man Winter.

Sigh.

Climate change? You really do have to wonder.

For years, I’ve wanted to own a dog – as an adult – in order to experience for myself the joys and rewards of canine companionship known to so many others. Bringing this little guy, our sweet, sweet Coco, into our lives has been a revelation. A challenge, yes. Great frustration at times? Most certainly. Regret? If I’m honest, yeah, once in awhile.

He, however, gives us so much in return for our trouble. Like a bucking bronco, he tears up the living room, his exhilaration palpable as, one by one, he trots out each of his growing collection of toys as Bill and I go about our morning preparations. We delight at his antics, his simple puppy gestures, his whimpers and growls, his wagging tail, his dark eyes and black button nose, his soft wavy coat, his cherubic countenance as he (at last!) curls up for a mid-morning nap and most of all, his love and devotion to us – his supremely lucky humans.

Puppyhood is likely not for everyone and I’ll be both grateful and sad when he sheds his youthful exuberance for a more stately and dignified – restful – manner. Every day brings new smiles and laughter and a deepening appreciation for the happiness and glee he provides. I can only hope he is as pleased to have us in his life as we are that he is a part of ours.

Life.

Sometimes it slows down, so much so that our days can feel stagnant but otherwise moving along at a leisurely pace – nice! – and at other times we find ourselves being pulled along and/or pushed into activities, events, changes that leave us gasping for air.

One thing is certain, however; life keeps moving on. How we react to what it brings is ours to decide. And that can make for quite the astonishing difference.

Daily Prompt: Astonish

I want to daydream of spring.

Snow blankets our backyard and the golf course beyond. It is beguiling but also cold and foreboding, not warm and easy like a lovely day in May. So, I’ll contemplate hosta shoots poking up through the ground, their green and purple tips an extravagant delight, a wondrous discovery amid the decaying remnants of last year’s growth.

Come spring there will be teases of color: pinks and reds, pale green – so many shades, dizzying at times – yellows, lavenders and purples and scrumptious bright whites, all beneath an azure sky and a glittering array of budding trees and shrubs. The heartbeat of new life, new growth, fresh air, fresh beginnings. Promise. Longer days. Extended daylights. Warmth.

But, while I savor my daydreams, I know there is awhile yet to go before we can bask in spring’s beauty. Winter teaches us patience. Our hearts quicken though in rapturous anticipation.

Last night I read one of my poems for the first time, behind a microphone, at a poetry event in downtown Des Moines. There was a large gathering, more so than I’d expected. The crowd was diverse, eclectic and punctuated with young folk, some high school age, most in their twenties and thirties. A few oldsters such as myself were in attendance. At 60, I had to wonder if I wasn’t the oldest person in the room. No matter. It was exciting to see so many young people, ardent devotees of the written and spoken word: the beauty and angst of poetry.

The readings were, in large part, tributes to the cadence of hip hop and rap, speaking universal themes of love, discovery and acceptance with a few jabs at the current administration thrown in for good measure. And while there were some very good offerings, I cannot help but wonder how these young talents might translate to broader topics, interests beyond transgender discrimination, rape culture and lesbian love. An observation, mind you, not a critique…

As for my own experience, I was only a little shaky. I belong to three groups, two of which are devoted to the process of writing, the other to poetry. Each is unique in both their format and their focus. All are made up of wonderfully gifted and interesting individuals. Sharing my poems and writing is somewhat the same at these venues, sans the microphone and stage. At our group gatherings, we sit around a table, made up of known and friendly faces. Quite different from standing slightly elevated with dozens of pairs of eyes sitting around the room before you. But – doable, indeed.

It was an interesting evening, something quite different from the basketball game we’ll attend tonight, to be sure! I enjoyed myself and hope to engage in a repeat performance.

On the 13th of December, an XPressPay invoice email appeared in our Inbox. My husband, Bill, uses XPressPay to pay our Norwalk utility bills. Nothing unusual here except I noticed the subject line on this particular email (which I chose not to open and read so as to not ruin the surprise anymore than seeing this had already done!) read 2018 Dog License Application.

Holy Cow! I thought. Bill did it. He got me a puppy!! We’d just seen a gorgeous cock-a-poo a few days earlier while walking at Gray’s Lake. The owners gave us the breeder information and later that day Bill made the comment ‘maybe we should get you a puppy’. I said nothing at the time so when I saw this email my heart soared!! OMG. A puppy!!

I started to prepare myself for impending puppyhood. I read articles and posts about the first 24 hours home, the first few weeks & months and how to train, feed and care for my new puppy. I was STOKED and looking forward, although somewhat anxiously, to opening our home to a new companion.

Christmas morning – crickets.

I waited patiently, wondering how Bill was going to spring it on me. Was he going to give me a dog leash or the license tags wrapped in shiny Christmas paper? Or maybe he’d wrapped the crate we’d use to bring our new puppy home from the breeder. Bill said nothing. At noon we headed to Kent & Kim’s for dinner and gifts. Perhaps he would present me with the accoutrements of dog ownership there when we exchanged presents with family. Or – OR!! Maybe Kent & Kim actually had my new puppy waiting for me at their house!! OMG. My tummy was doing flip-flops. I was nervous, excited and anxious.

We get there. The house was pretty quiet. No furtive glances. No coy looks. No puppy sounds emanating from the basement (maybe that’s where they had him?!?) I continued to wait. Lunch was a little delayed so we decided to open gifts before we ate. OMG. Here we go!! I waited. And waited some more. And then – it was over. Time to eat.

Nothing.

What the heck?!?!

Later in the day, Bill and I sat off to the side on the couch in the living room, family busy elsewhere in the house. Quietly, I told him about the email and wondered out loud ‘what gives?!?!’ Bill had no idea what I was talking about. “Dog license? You think I bought a dog license for someone?” Then: “Oh. You thought I got YOU a puppy?” He truly had no idea what I was referring to. Finally, I realized he was sincere. He felt bad. No, he hadn’t gotten me a dog. “Let’s go get you one tomorrow”, he said. “If you really want one.”

So.

No puppy. Somehow a huge mistake. I don’t know why we got this email. When we got home late last night and opened it up to read it, all that it contained was a blank application form. NO clue as to why they sent it.

This morning I told my husband that maybe winter wouldn’t be the best time to get a puppy. We’ll revisit this discussion come spring.

Sigh. No furry little friend – for now.

And still, I wait…

Steve placed the King James, opened face-down, on a three-legged stool, not far from the searing heat of the roaring fire. Revelations had nothing to reveal to him. It made no sense, no matter which way he sliced and diced the thing. He felt as if he’d lost his way over the years, finally unshackled from the orthodoxy of indoctrination that had gripped him at an early, impressionable age and that was, he thought, fine by him.

Religion had lost its luster. The hold it had on him had become looser and flimsier in this, his eighth decade on the planet. Nature was his god now. His mind was sound, his 75-year-old body still fit and trim. Daily walks on the beach, gathering driftwood, sifting through tidal wrack to unearth man’s middle finger of careless disregard for the beauty and awe of the world, had taught him many things, not the least of which was the propensity of humans to look outside themselves for solace, for answers, for comfort. All that was required was within. Steve understood this now.

Majestic nature, the silence of being, the grandeur of it all inspired his devotion: oceans, mountains, streams and fields and hills, lakes, creeks, ponds and marshes. The diversity of plants and animals, the glorious and changing seasons, the powerfully awesome forces of the skies – these were no trifles. They were his all. These spiritual elements comprised the core of who he was and what he believed in. More importantly, they inspired him to live in the moment and to be grateful for every morsel of this beautiful cocoon that enveloped him in its tender, ferocious arms.

At one time, he felt torn about his evolving views. No more. This was Life and he would cherish and nurture and enjoy it for as long as he was fortunate enough to do so.

Daily Prompt: Torn

I watched a tractor through the magnifying magic of binoculars this morning. Unaided, I was just able to make out his high beams (why they were on I haven’t a clue as the day is bright, despite the heavy blanket of clouds in the sky) but through the lens, details began to emerge as the tractor ran its errands. To the side in an adjacent field, I saw a white pickup and a newly-clear view of what is normally admired via a quick glance out our sunroom windows. Canada geese flew into my line of sight and, setting the binoculars aside, I noticed a squirrel scampering across the third hole, skirting the bunkers. The pond on the far end of the second fairway patiently waits for the geese to land, arboreal sentinels keeping watch. Purple finches, closer to home, approach our feeder, happy I’m sure, that only yesterday I refilled it with the black sunflower seeds they so heartily crave. There is no snow – just yet – and we’ll enjoy temperatures in the 40s and 50s the next several days but make no mistake: winter is coming.

The hospice bed occupied a large portion of the living room. Ha! — the living room. Dad was dying and it wouldn’t be much longer now. I hadn’t realized the stillness of our melancholy would be punctuated by the sounds of Dad’s death rattle. Nor did I know that he would slip into a coma-like sleep as the cancer, coursing through his body, began shutting down his internal life support systems. It unsettled us all.

We took turns sitting alongside him, holding his hand in ours as we memorized the lines in his drawn, shrunken face, the twinkle in his brown eyes long since extinguished. We sought reassurance every few minutes that he was indeed still breathing. Once, when my mourning asserted itself in a low, wretched wail, the depths of my anguish more pronounced than any grief I’d ever known, my mother scolded me.

“Stop it. You’ll upset your father”.

A memory, unbidden, startled me at that moment. I was reminded of the time my mother visited my kindergarten classroom. Thrilled that she was there, I eagerly twisted my small six-year-old frame for a glimpse of her sitting behind us — a small group of little ones seated on our colorful nap rugs — happily expectant that she would return the huge smile I offered her. Instead, she shook her finger and sternly admonished me to turn around and pay attention to the teacher.

My father was leaving me and now I had two conflicting states of mind to grapple with: this paralyzing, numbing sadness and the frustration (and hurt) of yet again being shamed for expressing my emotions, each time having been inspired by love.