The Phenomena of New Year’s Resolutions

I find the whole phenomena of New Year’s resolutions interesting.

It’s striking that the custom occurs immediately following a holiday season where most of us are focused on other people – get-togethers, shopping, cooking, and the like. I suppose there are some people who resolve to make their spouse a better person or determined to manipulate their boss into bestowing a big raise, but most folk concentrate on self-improvement.  I suppose that is a fitting end to the holiday season with its penchant to provoke most of us to abandon good habits, indulge in our worst ones, and suffer through the torments of shopping malls.

After a few failed attempts in my youth, I pretty much gave up the New Year’s resolution thing. My resolve usually peaks in August/September – that time of year has always felt like the beginning of a new year more so than now.

However, in 2008, known as Great in ’08, I made a simple resolution. I was going to quit, cold turkey, watching Law & Order. I still had satellite television service at the time and I spent 2007 sprawled on the sofa watching episode after episode. I couldn’t explain the compulsion. I’ve never been a huge TV watcher and the situation bumfuzzled me to no end – nevertheless there I was. The truly appalling part of it was that Law & Order can be found at any time day or night on one channel or the other.

Law & Order made me cynical and provoked me to look for the worst in people. I did not like the person I was after a 6-hour jag. And 6-hour jags were moderate sessions.  My favorite franchise of the show, Special Victims Unit, mirrored much too closely my job.  To some extent, my jags didn’t do much but extend my working day.

So. I announced my intention and jumped in my car to leave Massachusetts on January 1st. That first day of 2008 should have been easy, no? No. I hit a surprise blizzard in the Cumberland Gap and was checked into a motel by 8 p.m. with no cell phone service, no internet, and no book. (It was storming far too hard to stand around digging through the trunk of the car to retrieve my book. I never travel without a book.  I now never travel without a book  on the back seat.)

So? Guess what the only channel the motel television could pick up in the storm was? The one showing the 24-hour New Year’s Law & Order marathon. Other than lying on the bed staring at the ceiling, I didn’t have much of a choice. I still had adrenalin rushing through my system after the terrifying drive in search of a motel.

I checked out the next day, re-affirmed my intention, and have not watched the show since. Cancelling the satellite no doubt was helpful. It is the only resolution I’ve kept faithfully in my life.

Last year, overly optimistic with the success of 2008, I pondered which one thing I most wanted to do to improve myself. I had already dubbed the year to come Fine in ’09 and was centered and focused on emotional equilibrium and quiet contentment. I plotted out a number of changes and activities to provoke such a sense of well-being not the least of which was Gardenpalooza.

Well. If you’ve been reading this blog you know that 2009 was anything but quiet or content though great strides were made in the garden. It’s been a flippin’ awful year. HMOKeefe waited until I’d left town to have a heart attack and he closed out my year with a stroke. (It wasn’t a good year for him either.) My financial situation went down the tubes. Interspersed throughout the year were unexpected family deaths, health problems, house problems, job problems, puppy problems,  Through most of it, I gardened or planned the garden or admired the garden.  The garden, as much as the people who love me, got me through this trying year.

And while 2009 was flippin’ awful, it was also right good. I had a ball in the garden; I had a magnificent birthday; and I found the wherewithal to ease the financial problems. Chef Boy ‘R Mine was the light of my life.

And so, with ‘10 dubbed Total Zen in 2010, I’m pondering what resolution(s) I can make to ensure the slogan becomes true.

A number of things come to mind:

1. Get my diet back on track. My eating habits have become awful. I’ve always had a relatively good diet, but this last year has found me eating almost nothing but junk food. The resolution has nothing to do with losing weight, that’s not particularly a need right now;  it has to do with feeling good and feeling healthy. Healthy food takes time and money.

2. Get back on the exercise bike. Get back to yoga. Get back to meditation. This is a time problem more than anything else. While I don’t yearn to ride the bike, it’s not that bad. After a bit, the white noise kicks in and I feel good. And I feel very virtuous after 30 or 40 minutes on it. Yoga is immediately soothing. Meditation is hard work, but I had been noticing microscopic inroads to a sense of No Mind when I gave it up.  I’m a mass of flab and wasted muscle not to mention a future cardiac patient.  It occurs to me now that I could combine the bike with the meditation.

3. Write more. Writing is deep play for me. Again, this is a time thing. I need, or think I do, a minimum of 2 hours to produce anything other than a down-and-dirty rough draft. I enjoy writing. I keep most of it to myself and that’s fine. Writing is exciting, contenting, and all-around good for me.  Of the stuff I share, mostly this blog, my time constraints have provoked blog postings riddled with typos and thoughts not well-fleshed out.  While I enjoy it, flaws and all, I think my readers deserve better.

4. Learn how to clean the house in dribs and drabbles so that it never again gets into the state it’s in now. Like I said, I enjoy a clean house. The more chaotic my life, the more I need orderly surroundings.  Today, I have thus far restored order in the dressing room and dusted and re-arranged my vanity.  I feel so virtuous with this little act of domesticity.  It seems a simple thing to do and not one that takes much time or money.

5. Figure out how to spend more time with friends and family. I’ve neglected both shamefully. That time thing again.  When I do make the time, I never fail to note the blessings of having good people in my life who love me warts and all.  That’s a gift beyond price that I’ve played much too casually with.  How many people in the world pine for one good friend?  And I have so many.  How many people pine for unconditional love?  I have so much.  How many of those people know I treasure them?  I’m not sure.  It’s time to be sure.

6. Be a better pet owner. My puppies have suffered far too much loneliness and neglect with my hectic life. I haven’t taken them for a walk in forever; in fact, I haven’t even sat on the sofa and cuddled with them in weeks.  I banished them from my bed when menopause provoked sleep problems.  I miss that time of cuddling and I really miss Trudy as a foot warmer on cold winter nights.  I think I have a handle on the sleep problems; tonight will tell.  I intend on settling down with three puppies in the, now, cobweb free bed.

So, it’s pretty clear to me the resolution needs to be More Time. That’s not a simple problem to solve. I’ve done a fair job of streamlining my life to squeeze out as much time as possible, but I have to find room for improvement.  Every aspect of my life, save the bank account, is suffering the effects.

I don’t need a failed New Year’s resolution to further batter my self-esteem, so I’m going to focus on eating better, being a better Puppy Mama and spending more time with family and friends.  I finally worked up that head of steam I’ve been hoping for and blathering on about for the past few days; the house is getting there (if you ignore the plumbing problem I discovered this morning).  Already, I feel more tranquil, more relaxed, more at-home in my skin.  Intermixed with the cleaning, I have talked to family and friends.  I have cuddled with and played with puppies.  I’ve foregone the junk food and treated my body to some real nutrition.  It’s not rocket science to figure out these actions make me a better person – the ultimate in self-improvement – and these actions are good for the people (and puppies) I care about.

I’m pretty sure most of us need Total Zen in 2010. So my wish for you this year is that you achieve such in whatever way is best for you to go about it.  And let the people you love know that you love them.  These actions shouldn’t be phenomena; they should be rooted deep in our lives.

Fine in ’09, Whine in ’09

This time last year, I was sitting on HMOKeefe’s sofa, probably into a bottle of wine and watching a movie. Periodically peering out the window to look at the snow.

I was to have left Massachusetts on New Year’s Eve, but my flight was cancelled due to an impending storm. I was confused as I could be. The Yankees were acting like a bunch of Appalachians in panic over snow that hadn’t started yet. My flight was cancelled hours before the first flake.

It had been an eventful trip. Leaving Charleston, I missed my flight because I couldn’t find a parking spot (yes, at Yeager) and I couldn’t get through security in time (yup) to make my plane. It seems that the VFW from Logan, I think, had decided to go on a cruise. Everyone in town went to the airport to see them off. Do you have any idea how long it takes to get through security when you have to explain, describe, and tut tut about every metal piece involved in knee and hip replacements? Appalachians are nothing if not chatty and polite. There was no way to hurry those folk and nothing for security to do but listen to tales of surgeries.

Anyway. There I am in Yankee-Land with a cancelled flight and no snow on the ground. The snow did arrive – six to eight inches of it – certainly not a big deal by their standards.

Originally, I had wanted to leave New Year’s Day. There’s a tradition that you should be doing at midnight what you want to be doing for the whole of the year. As scheduled, I was going to spend midnight leaving the parking garage of Yeager. But I was told, definitively, all the flights for the 1st were booked. And, so, alas.

The snow came, the snow plows came, and USAir rescheduled my flight for the 1st. Go figure. I went.

HMOKeefe and I had celebrated New Year’s Eve on the 30th with lobster and champagne at home. We’d burned logs in the fireplace, had carnal relations, talked and laughed a great deal and were probably sound asleep by 10 p.m. There are some aspects of middle age I really like – in this example, the leaving behind of midnight frenzies with bunches of drunks.

I’ve had my fair share of midnight frenzies with bunches of drunks. I’ve been one of the drunks. I’ve been single, married, and about to be divorced on New Year’s. In retrospect, the New Year’s Eves I’ve enjoyed the most have always been the ones I spent at home.

My New Year’s as a single person must have been decidedly uneventful, because I can’t bring anything to mind – good or bad. I never sat alone at home and I only remember a couple of big bashes, but there’s not a Woo Hoo or an Oh No in my memory.

My married years were mostly uneventful. Sometimes, we’d go out for dinner. Sometimes not. Sometimes I’d cook a lavish meal. Sometimes it was take-out pizza. For many years, New Year’s Eve was spent in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin with extended family – sometimes a quiet time; sometimes a big house party. A few times, the party petered out and everyone was snoozing long before midnight.

One memorable year, 1999/2000, I got my one and only speeding ticket in Kentucky escaping the Great Frozen North. It had been a week where the family dynamics had gotten completely out of hand and I needed to be home. I had fumed through Wisconsin and Illinois. I had seethed through Indiana. By Kentucky, I smelled home and the mountains were wrapping themselves around me like an old, comfortable quilt. The speed was exhilarating. The thought of my house, my bed, and people I liked was intoxicating.

The cop cut me a break. I had been clocked at 89. I must have been coasting at that second, because I had been doing 93. He wrote the ticket for 74. I never disputed the ticket; paid it gladly. I was home or near enough.

A few years ago, before the bone marrow transplant, HMOKeefe and I dressed to the nines and went to dinner at Savannah’s (Huntington’s fine dining restaurant). I wore full-length Donna Karan, pearls, and spectacular shoes. He wore a great suit and a crisp white shirt. We spent hours eating, came home, and were probably actually awake at midnight. It was lovely. Really lovely. I wouldn’t want to do it every year, but I would like to do it now and again.

It’s the first time I can remember seeing in the New Year in years and it was the last time since.

So. There’s this tradition that at midnight you should be doing what you hope to do all year.

I’ll be sleeping. Despite hours and hours of sleep the past week, I still can’t get enough. It seems I’ve settled into a pattern of long, winter naps. I get up for a few hours, attend to some cleaning and organizing, and crawl back into bed for a couple of hours. Rinse and repeat. I would like to wake tomorrow fully rested and restored. That would make for a terrific 2010.

There is no intention, whatsoever, of seeing midnight tonight. There’s a bottle of champagne in the refrigerator left over from my birthday party. I’ve taken it out a few times thinking to open it and then put it back. I’ve been on Facebook and Twitter twaddling on about how pathetic it is to be spending New Year’s Eve napping and checking friends’ status updates.

It doesn’t really feel pathetic. It’s kind of nice.

I was supposed to be in Massachusetts today. It didn’t work out. While I’m distressed to have broken the tradition of seeing HMOKeefe at this time of year, I have also enjoyed this week at home. It was downtime sorely needed.

I am a homebody that doesn’t get much home time these days. I’ve been a homebody for decades now. Even when single, I spent far more time at home than did my friends. For years and years, my idea of a good weekend has been one where I don’t have to leave my hill.

The holidays always wipe me out. I am tired of it all long before Christmas Day arrives. The hustle and bustle just gets too intense, too frenzied, too loud, too-everything. I am ready to close the year down, pack it up, and whip out a new calendar. I don’t want to erase the year, but I do want to put it away and reflect on it later. Maybe.

I’ve had a week of not leaving the hill.  I’ve wallowed in the quiet peace of it.

This has been an exceptionally challenging year; 2010 looks to share some of the same problems.

This has been an exceptionally good year. 2010 looks to share some of the same blessings.

Fine in ’09 and Whine in’09 have been the yin and yang of the past 365 days. The coming year, I have dubbed Total Zen in 2010. Every year, my wish is to be bored, for just a day or two or three, and every year I am everything but. Still. For 2010, hope springs eternal. The Drama Queen pines for a drama-free existence.

May midnight find you where you want to be, doing what you want to do, with those you want to be with.  May your only drama be that spent in a floodlight accompanied by applause.

I love Christmas trees.

Telling ornament stories.

This year I’m going to have to glory in the Christmas trees of years past as I don’t think I’ll be able to do much more than get the “little tree” up.

The “little tree” is thus monikered because it is small in comparison to the “big tree” and because it is a consolidation of numerous tabletop trees I had scattered about the house.

At one time my goal was to have a Christmas tree in every room. I did a pretty good job of that, but then discovered that I spent so little time in many of the rooms I was missing out on some wonderful ornaments.

I have loved Christmas trees for as long as I can remember. Putting up the tree was one of my favorite aspects of the holiday – I looked forward to that with almost the same intensity as I did Christmas morning.

The Big Tree. There's been an explosion of urban growth since this picture was taken. The village is out of control. All of it's out of control.

When we lived in Hawaii, there was a neighborhood kid who in retrospect was probably grossly neglected by his parents, but who, nevertheless, was a character. And he adored my father – another character. Matt would knock on the door and ask if “the big fat dum dum could come out to play.” My father was not fat. He referred to my mother as “Her Highness.” My mother was not royalty. To my knowledge, he didn’t call me anything.

He was little. Like 4-years-old little. And he often had his younger brother in tow.

One year he showed up at Christmas time and wanted to see our tree. Her Highness explained to him that the tree wasn’t decorated yet. That was alright with him. He sat on our living room floor and gazed at it for the longest time before leaving for the next house and the next tree.

There’s a lot of Matt in me.

I love Christmas trees.

I bought my first ornament to celebrate my first apartment – a spun glass angel. It was cheap, I was poor. I didn’t even manage a tree that year, but I had my first ornament. I also had begun the tradition of ornaments that had significance.

I was brand new pregnant the year I put up my first Christmas tree. I conceived on Thanksgiving Day and December found me shopping for ornaments to decorate the humongous tree I had bought. It was a “real tree” – I was contemptuous of my mother’s capitulation to artificial trees.

A sparse room, a sparse tree.

The tree was huge and we were poor. We had just bought the house and didn’t even have furniture for most of the rooms. Just buying lights taxed the budget, but I pressed on and bought some Victorian-ish ornaments and “popcorn” garland that the ex insisted on. He’d had no interest in the Christmas tree and, indeed, found the whole undertaking ridiculous. But he was insistent on that damned, plastic popcorn. We bought every string they had and it wasn’t enough, but careful arrangement made it look like enough as long as you didn’t look behind the tree.

While out shopping on a brutally cold Saturday, I found the ornament of my dreams – a white iron Victorian baby carriage about 5” long. It was the last one – Gimbel’s didn’t even have the box for it. It was expensive and we were broke, but I was pregnant with the child we weren’t supposed to be able to have. I bought it.

And promptly left it somewhere in Milwaukee’s largest shopping mall.

I was pregnant and hormonal. I sobbed as though my heart was breaking – it was.

Giving up on finding it, I returned home still a hormonal mess. The ex who didn’t get the whole Christmas tree thing certainly didn’t get the tragedy of a lost ornament.

Later that evening, the phone rang. A woman had found my package, tracked me down with the credit card slip in the bag, and called. She understood. She said she took one look in that bag and new the ornament was important. I jumped in my car, drove across town in the brutal cold and retrieved my ornament.

Can you see the baby rattle?

While putting it on the tree, I remembered the baby rattle.

After telling the ex that yes, indeedy, I was pregnant, he rushed out of the house. I had told him Thanksgiving Day that I had just conceived, but he didn’t believe me. He rushed out and returned a few hours later with a pink baby rattle. He said, “I wanted to be the first person to buy something for the baby.” I questioned the pink of the rattle and asked if he wanted a girl. He said, “Oh? Is it pink? There was just so much baby stuff and finally I just grabbed something.”

I hung the baby rattle on our first tree next to the baby carriage. The tree wasn’t much – lots of gold lights, a few glass bulbs, some glittered, plastic snowflakes and the pink rattle and baby carriage in the place of honor.

I look forward to those two ornaments every year.

It was also that Christmas in 1984 where it dawned on me that Christmas ornaments need not have been intended as Christmas ornaments. All sorts of stuff ends up my tree – if it signifies something important in my life and I can get it to hang on the tree, up it goes.

Witches and popcorn

Through the years, I’ve added so many ornaments that the whole project has become daunting. I’d exhausted space on the tree and that’s when the little tabletop trees began. These were significant in their own right, but also just plain fun. Chef Boy ‘R Mine and I were wild about the Wizard of Oz, so we had a tree. (There are an astonishing number of Wizard of Oz ornaments available.) He and I were also quite enamored of Alice in

Wonderland, so there’s that tree. We also were fond of the Nutcracker Ballet, so there was that one. There was the “all-natural” tree decorated with dried flowers and grapevine. A tiny advent tree.

I still love the Nutcracker Ballet.

Child-of-Mine loved Christmas trees too. The year he was 18 months old, I gave him a small table top tree with battery-operated lights and hung his small stuffed animals on it. I also purchased some fabric ornaments for the tree. He dragged that tree around and decorated and re-decorated it for weeks. His tree, too, got larger and more ornate as the years went buy. Featured strongly were his Star Trek ornaments. When he got to be a manly man of about 12, he lost interest in his tree.

Not too many years ago, I realized that the big, family tree was stuffed to the gills with ornaments and was missing the whimsy that I delight in. But I loved it. So one thing led to another and I purchased a pitiful 6’ pre-lit tree and consolidated all the little trees onto it. It’s a hoot and a holler. It lives in the family room and is stuffed to the gills with Alice, Dorothy, Spock, Ninja Turtles, Godfather Drosselmeir, Popeye, and all manner of things to make a child’s eyes sparkle. And that stupid plastic popcorn that I had so hated is now a beloved component.

Matt would have loved it.

It wasn't exactly a planned-development village.

As the trees grew and morphed and got completely out of control, the Christmas Village trend began with small ceramic lighted houses. I was wild about them. The first year, I had four, I think.

My “little houses” have experienced a bad case of urban sprawl – I think we’re at about 30 buildings now. I have no overriding theme – the igloo sits next to the Ice Palace and bait shop sits next to the Cathedral. I have very expensive “collector’s items” and cheap, badly-painted Dollar General versions. It’s all good. I’m of the opinion that the proper place for the village is under the tree – my silent night sky is faux pine branches and the starry glow of tree lights.

Years ago, I decreed the big tree too full for even one more house or one more ornament, yet every year more ornaments and more houses were added. I’d reached critical mass long before the artificial tree (yes, I capitulated too) officially died. In 2006, I bought the artificial tree of my dreams. It’s a monster. It’s such a monster that just assembling the tree sans ornaments is a major production. Assembly and decorating plus erection of the little houses will take 4 full days of work.

His tree in my house before he took it home to be a year-round addition.

One of HMOKeefe’s wonderful qualities is that he enjoys Christmas trees and décor nearly as much as I do. He was supposed to have come here for Christmas and I would have put up both trees to delight him, but Thanksgiving week rendered a stroke and so I am going to his house.

The big tree is not going up this year. I have neither the time to put it up nor the time to take it down. The little tree can be assembled in about a day. It’s going up, maybe today – maybe this weekend.

When I get to Boston, I know that the palm tree-ish Christmas tree I gave him one year will be up – it’s always up. HMOKeefe has an island fetish and I knew he had to have that ridiculous tree. It’s a long story, but two Moose named Mort and Milly are the primary decorations.

One of these years soon, I will have the time and the energy to return to my habit of decorating this house from top to bottom for Christmas. This year isn’t it. But I love Christmas trees and this year I’m glorying in the memory of Christmas trees past.