Monday, December 30, 2013

Still A Monday

I don't know why, but I have never been that excited by the arrival of the New Year. To me, it symbolizes putting the wrong year on my checks for a month or two. No amount of glitter and sparkle can gussie that up. So here we are. I am much more excited about the fact that I can still turn the tree lights on, in the early morning and evening.

It is the quiet time of the morning, on the street I now live on. But the unicorn meat eating cats are in full swing. Max, the dog, has taken to sleeping under the covers, as winter sets in. And me? I have a stunning case of bronchitis that may or may not be moving in, for the winter.

I enjoy my new apartment, but yesterday was a bit lonely. But I can feel lonely in a crowd, I am just that talented, so...

Not much today. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

And Counting

It's now two days after Christmas, and counting. The tree is still lighted at night, and the cats still love to sleep under it. It is as if each small light were a sun, giving off a planet's worth of heat, for them to bask in. And yes, it is the quiet time in the morning again; just about an hour or so before dawn. It is more quiet and still now than any day I have lived in my new digs.

I overdosed on some chocolate last night, for the first time in my new apartment. I have been successful at avoiding it, but got some for Christmas. That's the last of it. Believe it or not, I was not raised knowing the delights of chocolate. It was too rare, and unknown, from too far away, to be affordable for my grandparents. Although they did drink coffee. It is a puzzle to me to this day...

Anyway. So, chocolate, is has a 'foreign' taste to it, to me. My rare experiences with it in my childhood were limited to Tootsie Rolls, received on Halloween. A treat was a piece of raw potato, fished out of the water my mother dropped them into, when she made potato salad, or beef stew. As a child, I loved the candy called Sweet Tarts, that came as necklaces or bracelets. Or the marshmallowness of yellow chicks that came in an Easter basket. My particular favorite is orange slices; all that sugar, with a citrus overlay...

We got our candy from the candy store, that also sold cigars. It was a log cabin, on Main Street, in Gloucester Courthouse. There were cinnamon fireballs, and butterscotch candies, and wax bottles filled with flavored syrup. A cheerful, old man behind the counter would fill a sack of candy for us, for half of a dollar. Then a modern 'drugstore' opened up down the road, and the candy store disappeared.

Where this is all going, I don't know. But I will let the last of the chocolate go, and not buy anymore. This apartment is truly, a great deal like the Manse, and the old, familiar furniture passed down through the family, is arranged as if my Mother had visited while I was moving, and set each piece down where she saw fit. It is as if the pieces themselves, had come home.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

In A Fever

It is my wish that all of you that meet me here, had a wonderful day yesterday. My tree has been lit for 2 days now, the gifts opened, the special foods eaten. Extra treats for the animals, as the first heralds. A slow down in the days, to talk and eat together.

4 o'clock to 5 o'clock in the morning, is the quietest time in this small city I live in. At least on the major road that I live on. It is the time of the fewest cars, the early morning travelers not yet out, the late night revelers, already in bed. There is a phenomenon in Roanoke that is called, "cruising." I'm sure, if your town is big enough, there is some tradition of it there, too. Fixing a car up and taking it out for display...They cruise every night on the road I live on. Of course, the big night is Friday and Saturday. That's when I get to hear the loudest stereos, the biggest engines, the hearty version of 'hail, fellow, well met' that still exists: "Yo".

It comes perfectly at the time of morning I am most likely to be awake in. It also happens to be the time that I am most likely to be in the deepest sleep. It just all depends. But this morning, I am awake, and I enjoy the light of the tree, and the tokens of affection that are gifts, that lay under it. There are gifts yet to be given, that extend the holiday as well.

The kitchen is a well organized chaos: the baking went on into Christmas Eve. And I would be failing those of you who share my disorders not to mention the effects they had on Christmas.

I hoarded food. I bought pounds of flour and sugar that I have no real plan for, just some nebulous dream of making bread. It's not that I cannot make bread, I love to. But I got this flour and sugar with the idea in my head that I faced a 'long, hard winter' and only crusts of bread stand in the way of my death from starvation. I feel a bit like the first English settlers in Jamestown, or Laura Ingalls Wilder, who set out pioneering so long ago.

Then I got physically ill, with some stomach problem. I still run a fever at night, and in the morning. I am fatigued a good deal of the time, and want to go to bed quite early. Christmas Eve day dawned, and I realized I had done no baking, or cooking of any kind. I had all I needed for vast quantities of treats, and a complete paralysis of the mind and body.

Somehow I forced myself to eat breakfast and take my meds. A number of friends wanted banana nut bread. I had forgotten to get the ingredients. How could I have done that? A rush to the local store, twice, and I started to make the breads. First one loaf, then two. Clean the pans, add the eggs, find the tinfoil. My hands seemed separate from my brain, and they were cold.

Years of bread-making helped, as my mind got foggier, and foggier. I wrapped and decorated the first loaf very prettily, with the ribbons and bows I had gotten. I put one bow on the second loaf, and gave up on decorating them after that. I tried a blueberry loaf. I had forgotten to unfreeze the berries. I had to throw that loaf away.

I had wanted to make sausage balls for Christmas morning, and custard. How had Mom done it all? In the middle of the day, I lay down for a bit and slept. I felt nothing was done and the presents were still unwrapped under the tree. The numbness now extended from my hands up to my chest. But, somehow, the loaves kept popping out of the oven, without having fallen. Nice, round loaves with brown crusts. Friends came over to watch a James Bond movie. I excused myself and went to bed at 7:30. My understanding friends let me sleep. When I woke and hugged them goodbye, I was feverish.

I slept in my clothes for several hours after that, and woke to wrap the presents. I surrendered to the unmanageability of my life, went back to bed and slept well, for a time.

Christmas morning: an anxiety attack to start the day. An overwhelming feeling of, "What the hell?" beat me down, and I started to clean, as I do when I panic. The world righted itself a bit, when I realized that there was no more hope of baking anything else, and no more last minute trips to the store were possible. What would be, would be.

Slowly the morning began. I might live through it all.

Monday, December 23, 2013


Dear Mom,
I hung the ornaments you bought me over the years, last night. The wooden ornaments shaped like cats, with bells and ribbons on them, the red and the gold apples, the clear oyster shells with a picture from a long-ago holiday card pasted in the middle of them...

I miss you and Dad at this time of year, especially. Through the poverty and drinking years, and then the healthy years, the both of you kept the magic of Christmas so alive, we happily left the myth of Santa behind. You gave my brother and I the still mystery of bringing the tree in from the cold, with its aura of pine scent. The most holy moment of the season was stringing white lights on the tree, like lighting the last white candle of Advent.

I miss when Dad built a fire in the fireplace, and turned off all the lights in the house, except for those on the tree. It was an essential part of Christmas that I keep in my heart. I remember your delicious custard, crafted carefully over a day.

I miss the year of the "red" tree, nothing but apples and cardinals and red bows hung by the white lights. I miss the year of my childhood, when you bleached the oyster shells in the bathtub, and had a hole drilled at the top of them to string from the tree at our home on the Chesapeake Bay. I miss the year you made everyone search for their presents from clues written on paper, and hung from the tree. I loved the year you thought of wrapping all the presents with the funny papers, from the Sunday editions. Or the year you wrapped everything in tin foil.

I remember getting simple gifts, toothpaste and toothbrushes, combs to hold my hair, sometimes a sweater, or earrings. My favorite gifts were the books: Little Women, the complete set of the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Silmarillion.

And so, this year again, I have my own tree, with your ornaments on it. And I string the lights with Dad nearby, and you roasting a turkey in the kitchen. I make your favorite banana nut bread, for my brother. I bake breads that you and Dad loved, and cakes, and cookies, the soft ones, for you and the crunchy ones for Dad and I.

And I have the people you loved visiting on Christmas Day. There are some new ones, I know that you both would like, in my life, and they love your ornaments, too. And some have gone to spend Christmas with you.

Until we meet again.
Your loving daughter,

Friday, December 20, 2013


I have moved. I live now in a new apartment, in a very lively part of town. It reminds me of the Old Manse, the house I lived in as a child, growing up in Gloucester, VA. The apartment is in a building that is over 100 years old, with plaster walls, and wide baseboards. There are very tall windows and wood floors, throughout. I will have a house warming party in February that absolutely all of you are invited to.

I am now surrounded by City. There are no woods or fields, but there are trees. Down the street is a church, and Max and I stroll through their grounds every morning and evening, now. It is exciting to be in the heart of this small City, and it is my first experience of living in a city in my life. I am fascinated by the goings on around me: the people stopping at the 7-11 across the street, the cars slowly moving past. There is always something to see. Every once in a while, an ambulance or police car screams by.

The unicorn meat eating cats are indoor cats, now. They are too entranced at all the room and the windows to put up much of a fuss now, but I can tell that window seats will go in when Spring arrives. Max no longer has a yard to play in, but he gets much more walks than he has ever had, and time spent with me on an adventure around the block is better than being tied on a run in the backyard, any day.

And me? I am delighted at the change. I love tall windows and wood floors. Of course, moving was very stressful, but I took my meds and plowed through with the support of more people than I can list here.

Of course, I will continue to write of the meadow and the forest. After all, it is not where you live, but what you carry in your heart, that is the true dwelling of every person.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen

Don't be alarmed. I am simply taking a vacation at Christmas for the first time in years. My blog will restart on Wednesday, December 18th. Thank you for your patience and know that I think of all of you everyday.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Love That Surpasses

I know I am slacking on my posts...forgive me. Life can be busy and overwhelming this time of year, even if it is 'happy' overwhelming. For instance, it's time to send out Christmas cards, and I have yet to pick them out. I have a collection of unused cards from years past, of course. I am tidy that way. But losing the envelopes makes sending them difficult, sometimes. So every year I get some new ones...

I look forward to 'A Dickens of a Christmas' which is the local, downtown celebration of the season; complete with a parade, pet costume contest, and tables of local artists' and artisans' wares set out for sale on the Farmers' Market. Cat toys, handbags, jewelry, polished rock, photographs: all and more are for sale. White Christmas tree lights hang over every stall, and the air is scented with handmade candles, soaps, confections, and holiday breads.

The service from the vendors is so very happy and personal. Families bustle by with brown paper packages; they chat happily. Excitement is in the air and sparks like electricity between the walking shoppers.

I don't usually buy the breads; I make my own. Cranberry-orange, blueberry, date-walnut, banana nut; everyone has their favorite. For some, I simply make loaves of fresh, crispy white bread. Served with honey butter, hot, it is nothing to sneeze at. Chocolate chip cookies are a specialty of mine as well. My Father loved them crispy, and Mom loved them soft. So I still make both. One year, a neighbor and I made several pounds of fudge. I stacked fudge on the kitchen counters until I lost sight of the walls. I gave it away in bags with ribbons, and tins. Everyone got fudge that year.

I make butter 'thumbprint' cookies with blackberry preserves in the thumbprint. Shortbread is a favorite of my friend, Dark Star. My brother loves getting anything with nuts in it. (His wife and daughter are allergic, and he only gets nut breads once a year.) And of course, at the end of it all: the breakfast casserole for Christmas morning.

One year at the Old House, that I remember with great fondness, I picked sour cherries and made preserves for Christmas. I loved giving the small, brightly red, pint jars with the dark green ribbon around the lid. I kept one for myself, to test, and enjoyed the jam well into January. A bit of summer evening held over into the winter to enjoy.

I don't have the trees anymore, but I make my bread, and cakes and 'bark' with nuts and berries. The kitchen becomes covered in a fine drift of flour, and confectioners' sugar. Walnuts crunch satisfactorily in the hand, while the countertops are decorated with the blueberries and cranberries and oranges that I use in my recipes. I dress the finished goods with tinfoil and gold ribbons. One especially happy Christmas memory is that of an senior lady and I making 'Russian tea' in batches for her friends. I was 8 years old, and I have no idea who the woman was now. Probably one of my Mother's geriatric patients, long ago. But she told me stories of her grandmother and her Russian tea, all afternoon. That was the day that I realized that one day, I too, would grow old. She told me she hadn't been born with white hair, or as she appeared to me. She insisted that she had once been a child, with parents and grandparents, just as I was. It was the biggest discovery of my life, up to that time, that first glimpse of mortality.

So, this morning, I pull out these Christmas memories, and I remember what her kitchen smelled like, making gallons of citrusy tea. My coffee this morning is Tanzania Peaberry, a dark roast. My ceramic Christmas tree shines with its colored lights. And outside, in the dark, the storm is coming. Lights gleam in the streets and from windows, a symbol of hope, and the love that surpasses all.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Roses With Other Names

I woke early again, today. Despite what I would like, I think this will be my pattern until after Christmas. Fortunately, I have company. Cats are nocturnal, and one or the other is always awake and demanding attention. If I was asleep, they would simply walk on my face for it. Max, the dog, is not nocturnal. He sleeps no matter what. If the light on the bedside table is too bright, he shoves his head under a blanket, or the bathrobe, to shield his eyes and goes right on sleeping.

I have decided to consolidate the five, plastic 'totes' full of Christmas decorations past, into just one or two. 3 years ago, when I left the Old House, I saved so many things I just couldn't part with. Five boxes of Christmas things were part of the load. But I no longer need the plastic magnolia leaves and flowers to remember my Mother and Father by. I don't need the several string of lights with only one bulb that doesn't work, or all the sets of the Nativity figurines that my Mother collected. It's a great time to donate those things to a shelter, or to friends that may want a remembrance of Christmas Stewart Past.

My Mother's favorite decorations were her statues of the Madonna that she set in greenery every year. My brother and I split them when she passed, and I remember that, no matter how little money we had to celebrate in a year, a Madonna would be set in a dish of water, and cedar and white pine, nandina and its red berries, would be set on the oak dining table, to shine like a candle in the dark. Indeed, more often than not, white candles and cloth that looked like snow, would also be set somewhere in the house, to hold the Nativity scene.

So, for me, Christmas is not Santa figures, or candy canes, but lights and candles and the Nativity and the Madonna. It is a tree in a cool, dark room, strung with white lights, with ornaments made of oyster shells that gleam among the boughs. It is all the mystery and wonder that such sights evoke, with the miracle of birth added.

Don't get me wrong. I think Christmas is big enough of a celebration to handle a Dutch saint and some color, and toothsome candies, or "stockings hung by the chimney with care." Whatever traditions your religion holds for this time of year are worthy of celebration.

After all, Light is light, by any other name...

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tuesday, Giving Tuesday

For the second time in 33 years, I am moving. My time here is up, and I spend each day on the search for a new place to roost. And for the unicorn meat eating cats, and Max, the dog, to roost, too. I am sad, scared, excited, happy. One would think that I would be used to the emotional roller coaster, but this is an enormous adventure for me. It hasn't palled.

So, as the adventure continues, I will let you in on what happens. Too excited today to write...

Monday, December 2, 2013

Monday, Monday Fa La La

It's the Monday after a holiday weekend, but it's not as bad as, say, the Monday after the 4th of July. Because December is a month of non-stop celebration for those who celebrate...Advent Sundays, carol rehearsals and performances, the pretty lights, and, for me, baking. I am generally very happy at this time of year...I like the weather where I live, I enjoy the sight of nature at her most exposed, and I love the lights. For a long time, my Mother's birthday was in December, the 12th, to be exact.

I still commemorate her birthday by doing something extra Christmassy on that day...extra baking, or a special trip to see the trees on display downtown, or a drive around to see the light displays.

It is beautiful here today. True, it is overcast with clouds that look like rain, but the temperature will be in the mid-50's F, and that's pretty mild, and typical for this time of year. We don't usually get the cold Canadian winds until January or February, and then spring is just around the corner.

I am happy again today. I have eaten, and bathed, taken my medications, without which I am lost. I have no thoughts for drinking or cutting. I will walk Max, the dog, today. He always looks like what the British would call a "Bully Boy" and rolls along on his walks, with an eye for company, and a leg lifted for fun. The only limits to our walks is my stamina, and he enjoys every moment, sniffing, peeing, rolling,'s all in the game for him.

The unicorn meat eating cats are disconsolate about the weather, though. There will be no sun-basking today...but I think they have accepted the inevitability of the winter. There really is not much of a choice for them. I will never move to Florida, or out West. I like rain and a bit of winter during the year. I have seen aspens, and think they are pretty, but I prefer weeping willows, and they love water.

Anyway, the "start of the Season" is here, and my heart is glad.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Quiet Darkness

It was colder yesterday than predicted, but the sun appeared along with cotton ball clouds, and so Max, the dog, and I walked. He has put on a bit of fat since I sprained my ankle, and so we walked longer than usual. He was frightened last night, so he got a bit of extra cuddle. He will get an even longer walk today, I will take him to the Hollins campus. I'm an alumnae there, and I take advantage of the beautiful, marked walking paths to get some exercise, sometimes. It was THE walk for my service animal, Eddie, and I.

It is December, the month to remember. I pull out all the old Christmas tree ornaments, the same small red, ceramic boot to hold candy canes that my mother had. I put up the last wreath I bought her for her birthday, December 12th, with the angel doll on it, the one with the dark green velvet dress, and the gold tissue bows. I know, it sounds hideous, doesn't it? But it has majesty in its Victorian air, and it is a good memory. I remember her delight at receiving it.

There are the 'oyster shell' ornaments, made of real oyster shells, bleached and dried, with a picture from a long ago Christmas card glued to the shallow bowl that used to hold pearls. She made those when I was 7, and my brother and I 'helped' her.

They are a memory similar to what you share, perhaps, of some holiday vision, whatever your religious persuasion. Some memory of someone who raised you, or befriended you, that explained the holiday with some sort of tradition attached to it.

For me, this special holiday means the colors of burgundy and dark, dark forest green. It means old stories of supernatural events happening because of the sacred nature of the day: miracles. It smells like citrus, and raisins, and rustles like dried fruit and nuts. It will end with one small, quiet morning. It should be a cool morning in the house, to preserve the tree. It will jingle with the 'cat' ornaments hanging from the lowest boughs of the tree. 'Ave Maria' will play softly, and there should be a fire. Candles will do this year, in a pinch, as they say.

Quiet whispers of talk will drift over the room with the tree, and we will bask in the miracle of its lights, and the scent of white pine. We will connect with each other, absorbed in the miracle of being, and the special event of being together.

There will be time later, after coffee, to hand out the gifts under the tree. Time to eat eggs, and bacon, sausage, breads made for the occasion. Time to spill out into the cold and to enjoy the sun, and the beautiful world made clear by the winter.

But, above all will hang the quiet of the fire, and the silence of the tree. The presence will come in from the forest, and cross the field, and rest in a room, for a small space of time. It will rest on the branches of the tree, among the lights. It will center in the air between us, as we casually talk about the rest we enjoyed or didn't, the night before.

Now this is all a dream and delight, but I have had Christmases like this and it's a plan. For the past 17 years, since the onset of severe mental disability, I have usually woken about 2 o'clock in the morning, fired by the white heat I generate at the onset of the season. By 9 o'clock in the morning, I am exhausted, mentally and physically. So, for this one year, I would like to sleep decently for Christmas.

My goal will be remain emotionally and mentally well for the holidays. No extra caffeine in the afternoon, my medications taken on time, and food when time for food comes. No mania or depression, no drinking or cutting, less white heat.

Not very romantic for Christmas, is it? Not particularly traditional; and adding candied cherries will not pretty it up. It will not fit into any stocking, hung with care. But it's the best gift I can give myself, and those who love me. To be as spiritually clean as a winter swept forest. To be rested, and taken care of enough that I can hear the presence in the room, echoed in the whispers and the old, Catholic hymn. To be still enough to enjoy the small lights that represent so much, and acknowledge the existence of the quiet dark.