Friday, December 31, 2010

A "Looking Backward, Moving Forward" Friday Five

This week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five asks us to name some blessings we've received in the past year while also expressing some hopes for the year to come. I can do that. So here they are.

Blessing #1: Miss Ruby. While technically she's a blessing from 2009 -- this has been the year to watch her grow from a tiny babe in arms, all potential, to a very smart, active little girl with a unique -- and dare I say big -- personality. One of her little cousins recently confided to Son #2, "I just don't know what we'd do without our Ruby."

Blessing #2: Chica.  It still hurts to think about Gertie and the day she died -- I honestly feel a brief resurgence of sweaty-palm panic whenever I pass the spot on the highway where the accident happened. We truly did not think we'd ever have another dog. But Chica, our little Heinz 57 mutt from the pound, has turned out to be a wonderful companion, with a personality all her own -- alternately sweet and spicy, as befitting her name. Mollie the cat, a veteran of many dogs over the years, still isn't quite sure what to make of this one. But we love her lots.

Blessing #3: The Stutzman Family. This year we got to know a local Amish woman, Mary, a widow with six children still at home, who sells baskets and soap in her backyard shop and in local Amish stores. Over the past year we've gone from casual visitors to her store to "Sit down and have some coffee" friends; which to me is a gift. And we've also grown to love Mary's kids, who are just a joy to be around -- who are polite and respectful to adults, and kind and helpful to one another, while maintaining free spirits and an impish sense of fun. I wish that some of our neighbors who think of the Amish in stereotypes -- usually negative -- could have the experiences we do with this family.

Blessing #4: A New Doctor.  It took me several months of Internet research -- but I finally found a primary care physician within reasonable driving distance who has an interest in integrative medicine and who treats me like a human being rather than a set of billable procedures to be squeezed in between pharmaceutical reps. Not that I am bitter or anything.

Blessing #5: Fellow Traveler. Yes, I am being sappy and cornball and obvious here...but especially this year, after observing and experiencing some major interpersonal pathology in other people's relationships, I am more than ever grateful to be traveling on the same life path with my Fellow Traveler.

Bonus Blessing:  Our Wii Fit. Yes, I'm serious. Even though I haven't been on it for a month due to travel and Christmas preparation and the fact that our heavily laden Christmas tree is too close to the television for me to be bouncing around on the board. This is one of the only exercise regimens I've ever been able to stay on for an extended period of time. When the tree goes down...the Wii comes back on.

On to wishes for the new year:

Wish #1:  Fellow Traveler's rheumatoid-arthritis-related TMJ became so bad this past year that something had to be now, after a long and often frustrating diagnostic process through the VA system, she's been cleared for outsourced surgery. We identified some oral surgeons in our general area of the state who seem to have expertise in jaw issues and are getting a consult from them. My wish is that this surgery -- which may wind up being anything from trying to create an artificial cushion in the RA-ravaged joint space to a titanium joint replacement, any option involving some delicate surgical work -- be a success so that FT can be free of the intense daily pain she suffers.

Wish #2:  Now that I have a doctor who suits me, it's time to deal with my health insurance. I have been arguing with Blue Cross for months now about whether or not I'm an actual subscriber (this despite my producing bank records of my ongoing automatic premium payments, and their regular delivery of the company magazine); the company changed my card number without my knowledge, and now refuses to send me a new card. I've been paying my medical costs out of pocket, then forwarding the bills to my insurance agent -- so far with no response from Blue Cross. In the last month I've had not one but two suggestions (one generated by a random discussion between two retirees we overheard in a restaurant when we were in California) that another Large Health Insurance Company is much easier to work with. So -- even though I grew up in a family atmosphere where Blue Cross was only a few pegs lower than God on a scale of life necessity and trustworthiness -- it may be time to make a change.

Wish #3:  This is a perpetual wish on my part, but...I'd like to improve the organization of our household, my personal items and, perhaps most importantly of all, my time. We've actually made strides in this area in the past year; but sometimes I am still overwhelmed by "stuff" and by a kind of randomness (often enabled by yours truly)  that feels like chaos. I really want to find that golden mean between Stepford Wife and Hoarders.

Wish #4: Having begun a successful transition from straggly shrubbery to perennials around our gazebo, I wish to keep that horticultural success going with a new and improved herb garden (thwarted last year by issues with our plumbing that necessitated digging up what used to be my herb bed) and a new flower garden along our front garage. This last project was actually suggested by the non-gardening FT, out of the blue: "Why don't we dig a strip along the side of the garage and plant flowers there?" Who am I to argue with this? (FT's sudden interest in flowers may be a function of her desire to keep bees, which I affirmed on Christmas by giving her an entire bee hive -- sans bees -- and newbie beekeeper equipment.)

Wish #5: Another standing item on my New Year wish list: I want to learn something new this year. I'm not too choosy about what that is. Practical skills (like piecrust making, perhaps?) are always good; or I could really live in the leap and take on some intellectual task that's so far stymied me (calculus? euchre?).

Bonus Wish: This has been a wish of mine for some time -- also, frankly, something of a source of guilt and stress: I want to begin blogging regularly again. One of the reasons I stopped was because I felt that my blogging was beginning to direct my life, instead of my life informing my blogging; sort of like those reality TV shows where the reality has given way to scripts and mugging for the camera. I think I'm at a good place to begin again.

Friday, December 03, 2010

A Festive Friday Five

This week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five focuses on the things that really make Christmas for us. Here's my list:

1. Our Advent wreath and calendar. Even though we're not always faithful in lighting the wreath candles, even though we sometimes have to play catchup for a few days with the calendar...we do find a lot of value in observing this season before Christmas in a real, tangible way. It feels pleasingly countercultural; it keeps Christmas, Inc. at bay at our house.

2. Trimming the tree. Or, in our case, trees, since we have two of them. I just love doing this. At our house we wait until just before Christmas Eve; we put on Christmas music, have some eggnog or Christmas tea, and make an event of it.

3. Baking cookies. We do this mostly for export...but it's still fun. And I still have to restrain myself from a repeat of the year in which I made 18 different kinds of cookies.

4. Anonymous gifting. We usually adopt a child or vulnerable adult from our community "giving tree." Oftentimes the requests are so modest that they're almost heartbreaking -- like the child whose card we took one year, who asked for food for her family. "Meet and exceed expectations" is our guideline for giving.

5. The Christmas Eve service. This year it will be more special because I will be assisting at it for the first time. We have an old-fashioned candlelight service with the Eucharist; we hear the Story once again; we sing familiar hymns. Afterward we come home and have a little pre-Christmas-day nosh of Christmas delectables, and exchange our gifts. Good times.

Bonus: What is one thing that really DOESN'T make your Christmas? Definitely the shopping and spending frenzy. We find gifts for our family all year long, so by the time the stores start bringing out the Christmas merchandise we've already finished buying presents, so we've effectively disconnected from most of the Christmas craziness. When I was working, the thing that used to get me the most were the obligatory (de facto, even when the bosses assure staff that they can opt out  if they wish) workplace gift exchanges. My church's annual yard sale was enriched for many years by the cast-off candles and other assorted unwanted tschotchkes I'd have to drag home from Christmas parties. The best workplace Christmas gift exchanges I've ever participated in either involved white-elephant gifts or a very low cost ceiling -- say $5 -- that really challenged givers' creativity and knowledge of their giftee.