Christmas at “The Outpost”

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This year, I am celebrating Christmas at what feels like “the outpost”. Miles away from our closest friends and family, I sit up here in these colder regions wondering what the holiday will look like. I mentioned to my daughter the other day, bemoaning this circumstance, “I’m missing the sparkle!”. “The sparkle” representing those gatherings where the tinkle of laughter, the way the candles glow on wine or punch glasses, or the wintry magic of holly flutes a descending staircase.

Not this year. Travel costs and body reparations post surgery forbid it.

But, “the outpost”, I discovered the other day, is a great place to re-play (and I mean emphasis on “play”) old memories that still have some juice and giggle to them. I turned on a copy of an old Christmas “album” and sang along, full voice. My husband, a willing audience, got to hear the tales of sisterly shenanigans of long ago, interpreting and misinterpreting the holiday song offerings as they played on the living room stereo: stomping around the room to “The Little Drummer Boy” a la Harry Simeone Chorale with my faithful oatmeal canister as drum-drum-drum, my sister imitating the rich male voice that rings out “Rise up shepherds and follow!” with its own weird and unusual consequences of doing so (family loyalty forbids me from sharing what happened next, although, I must say, we heard the familiar words from my mother at that point, “why is your sister’s hair wet?”) And hearing “All I Want for Christmas is You”- a song that can drive some people crazy in high-voiced pop familiarity brought me merrily back to my experience over a decade ago of Christmastime in New Zealand . . . warm weather, an outdoor park concert, and holding my “adopted” nephew in my lap, eventually falling over in a heap of people due to overly excited children in the vicinity amongst a crowded field of picnic blankets.

Some years, it seems, are just meant for cherishing what’s already come. New experiences may arrive next year, but this year, it’s about re-viewing, re-living, and re-playing with the old. The toy box of the past has baubles worth revisiting and giggling about.

Second Rite of Passage: place, space, and grace

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The variety of abilities in a group of women can be astonishing. Gather up a group yourself and ask the question, what ten things can you teach me, from juggling to car repair and everything in between? Trust me, astonished, you will be.

Speaking of which . . . our next offering was from the teacher in our little group. We gathered once again around the fireplace. She offered up a quick writing exercise to warm us all up and then we began.

“I like to do this with my high school students. It gives us a way to understand where we come from. If everyone can do a first draft and then rewrite it to keep or to give it to Ginny  . . .”

A pause. We think. We write. We tell our stories. We are given a prompt that includes asking for a detail about where we come from, something that matters to us, and who we are. This is what we came up with:

“I am from every country in Europe through scratch farms in Oklahoma, one women general stores in Montana to California for the promised dream.”

“I am from pepper trees, flaming bouganvilla, and eucalyptus that peels off in three different colors.”

“I am from wallpapered halls, big wheels, basements with pipes you can swing from, and long days at the Little League field.”

“From a carousel of seasons, absorbed one minute in hot, sticky thunderstorms and the next in the frigid arms of sleet- the cruel child of a marriage between  snow and ice.” . . .

“I know that crystal clear nights matter as do the warm summer evenings . . . “

“I know that I am under the trees, performing rituals for the birds and playing a flute in a long white swing, hearing a voice in the wind.”

I think we done good. Don’t you?

What would you write?

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First rite of passage: music! music! music!

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Maril reading the lyrics to an important song from her teen years.

I first came up with the idea when I thought back to those days in junior high school, and asked myself, “what was I listening to back then?” And then the follow up question, “what do I wish I would have heard back then?”

After pondering those two questions and reliving the experiences related to the answers, I realized that collecting important music in people’s lives helps share the hopes and struggles of a moment in time. I wanted the exploring of music as personal time capsule to be a learning place for Ginny on others’ timelines. This desire eventually became a solid piece in the puzzle of creating a memorable rite of passage for my daughter.

Most of us, I believe, have connected with music at particular times in our lives, and some of  us, at almost every moment of our lives. Maybe it was the lyrics: “day after day it reappears, night after night, my heartbeat shows the fear, ghosts appear and fade away . . . (Overkill by Men At Work)” or it could have been the overall message: “love is like oxygen, you get too much, you get too high, not enough and you’re going to die . . . . (Love is Like Oxygen by Sweet).” Regardless, music often had an impact and became a touchstone for a certain transition in our lives, good or bad.

So I invited the women of this first rite of passage to dig into their memories, and pull out songs that had an impact on their lives during their 14th year, or thereabouts. When the songs of both tragedy and triumph were busted out at the event (yes, even “I Have Confidence” from The Sound of Music), there was much laughter, and a few tears, as well as some robust singing along as one of the women d.j.ed the compilation c.d (later given out to guests), as it played out parts of our earlier selves.

We still play that collection six years later, sometimes dancing without reserve and singing with complete abandon into our plastic soup ladles.

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Ginny, listening to the women with glee and wonder.