Thinking Thematically

I got a notification that my stats had experienced a surge yesterday, January 18, 2021, when this blog post was at the top of my home page.

I can’t explain it, other than maybe some weird, misguided attraction to the word “revolution,” which, used here, is just another way of saying “resolution.” As in New Year’s.

The phrase that contains the word links back to a post I wrote a few years ago, about changing things as a way to keep going after my husband died of cancer. So if anyone came looking for something darker, I hope they were very, very disappointed. And I hope they never come back.

I used to make a list of New Year’s “Revolutions.” The idea of changing something that I can’t change back has helped me keep moving ahead, in these years without Mike.

We just passed our 5th New Year’s Even without him. It was weird. Angelic Daughter went to bed early and slept through the sounds of fireworks from somewhere close by. I was surprised they even had them this year.

I finally turned on the TV to watch the last 45 minutes or so of the odd, empty Times Square celebrations, flipping back and forth until I settled on CNN as the most entertaining. I was lucky to land there just in time to see Andra Day sing a stunningly beautiful rendition of “Imagine.”

The recorded music that played after the ball drop included Ray Charles’ version of “America,” which made me cry, thinking that we sure could use some more of God’s grace shed on us right now.

I waited until it was midnight in Chicago to open the Veuve Clicquot. We tried it years ago, before it cost $40 a bottle, and liked it. Made it a tradition for New Year’s Eve. When Mike was here, I remember describing the flavor as “like drinking liquid gold glitter.” This year, it tasted too dry to me.

I’ve always been vaguely aware that the Veuve Clicquot brand was run by a widow, taking over for her husband in the late 1700s. But I wasn’t thinking about Madame Clicquot when I bought the bottle – I was just thinking of remembering Mike on New Year’s Eve.

When I got the bottle out of the fridge, I noticed something on the back label that I hadn’t before: there’s a line across the bottom that says, “La Veuve The Widow Die Witwe La Viuda La Viuva.”

Wow. Rub it in, much? “Widow,” in 5 languages!

I’ve never felt more widow-y than in 2020. Being responsible for Angelic Daughter’s safety this year has been nerve wracking. “Don’t take your mask off!” “Wash your hands for two Happy Birthdays!” DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE!”

I hope my bouts of hysterical maternal protection haven’t made things harder for Angelic Daughter. She’s been so resilient and patient, but the loneliness is getting to her. She misses her friends. She reaches out with texts and calls, but half are never answered. She sends greeting cards. Of the twenty or so friends she has sent cards to, five have responded. Yet she doesn’t lose hope.

“Almost to the New Year!” “Almost Martin Luther King Day!” “We’ll have meet-ups again soon!”

I guess I can be excused for not building a business empire of my own, like Madame Clicquot did, this past year. But that line on her champagne label made me look back on those past New Year’s Eves with Mike with a chill – that portent, a warning, staring us right in the face. I didn’t notice it then, but I’ll never forget it now.

Recently, I found out about a different way to look at aspirations for a new year: choosing one word to guide your actions, instead of making a list of resolutions. Apparently this is something Melinda Gates popularized.

I’ve been trying to come up with my word for 2021. Gates has used “grace,” “shine,” “spacious,” and “gentle.”

I want a word that helps me focus on what’s truly important. I want a word that filters out the noise, and helps me live with love and laughter. This past year has been a tough test for both of those.

I thought of “purpose,” but that’s not quite it. “Meaning” doesn’t seem quite right, either. I want a word that evokes an appreciation for the preciousness of time–that every second matters, and I should live that way.

Intentionality? Nah, too new-agey-trendy. Savor? Makes me think of food. What one word would encapsulate the desire to make every minute count?

“Urgency” sounds too desperate. I’m trying to stay calm here, but focus on what’s important. “Clarity” is good, but I think Ms. Gates has used that one, and I don’t want to be a copycat.

How about “lucid?” The synonyms for that one get into bright, gleaming, luminous, etc. I checked for synonyms for “present,” as in “I’m here,” but I was looking for a word that implies being present-mindfully, lovingly, present.

That brought me back to “now.” Why didn’t I think of that? Actually, I did think of that, a few years ago, in much the same way.

So, I think I’ve got it. My word for 2021 will be “now.” That’s a word that will help me attend to how I’m spending my time, each moment of each day, without before and after.

Happy I spent “now” writing this for you, I remain,

your flawed, anxious, trying to stay calm and attentive,


Pandemic Thanksgiving Rules

I went back and re-read my post, The Good China, or, The Thanksgiving Rules from a few years ago. So much of it seems alien now. Watching real parades with real crowds. Pledging to do “thankful Thursdays” and write a thank-you note a week to someone who wasn’t expecting it. Yeah, like that happened. The stress of learning how to be a single parent of a young adult with autism, coupled with worrying about getting a job, getting a dangerous job, quitting that job, and it taking a long time to find another one, saw those plans fall by the wayside.

But something I never abandoned, even this year, the endless pandemic year, was my commitment to The Thanksgiving Rules. They’re simple, really – give Thanksgiving its due, before you deck the halls and fa-la-la.

Here’s an illustrated guide:

Thanksgiving Day

Day AFTER Thanksgiving:

And the garlands are up, and the lights are hung outside.

I confess to bending a little this year on the the “no Christmas music until after Thanksgiving” because Christmas music makes Angelic Daughter so happy. She created that cute collection of Christmas thingamabobs, artfully giving the Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus center stage.

We didn’t gather together with any family this year. But Angelic Daughter and I had a peaceful, restful, and delicious Thanksgiving, which is feeding us for the remainder of the weekend.

And as I was preparing the meal, on my feet all day for two days, just to do up what’s traditional for us, including whole berry, homemade cranberry sauce:

Angelic Daughter said to me, “we should give food to people.”

“Yes, honey, we should. I’ll find out when the pantry is open for donations.”

There’s a food pantry two blocks from my house. I haven’t seen lines of cars around the block for that one, but I’m sure they’re seeing their share of desperate people.

So in midst of thankfulness for our extraordinary blessings and good luck (I have a job, we have a home, we have clothes on our back and heat that works) I’ll empty that plastic prepper bin I have in the basement and haul those canned goods to the pantry. And if there’s a chance to give a family a Christmas meal, I’ll fill a bag for that. It ain’t much, but it’s something.

We can be good to one another as we crawl our way to 2021.

Tonight at music time, the hour before bed when Angelic Daughter and I just sit in the dark together, listening, we’ll bust out the Christmas music and enter the season of waiting and hope. Out of darkness comes light. Let’s all get there together.

Wishing you a good work-from-home job, a roof over your head, food in your pantry and heat that works, I remain,

Your wondering-how-advent-could-be-here-already-and-totally-unprepared-for-Christmas-gift-shopping-but-turning-on-the-Christmas-tunes-anyway,



The brightening on the rhododendron, the peachy-pink that expands gently on the bark of the silver poplar, and the sudden racket of the birds – what is that one, that sounds almost like a turkey, or a lost loon? Morning comes at me indirectly, in sound and light.

And smell.

Pepe Le Pew is back.

The steel mesh stapled around the perimeter of the deck, held down by cement blocks, has once again been defeated. Something has burrowed under it as easy as kiss my hand. I was hoping it was the fox. But based on the size of the hole, I’m afraid it is Madam le Pew.  And family.

My nose gives me hope that she may have moved on. I’m just not up to fighting it anymore. Why do they like my particular deck so much? Isn’t there any other deck in the neighborhood that would do?

The skunks couldn’t stop me from noticing the sudden burst of growth one day of warm weather has brought. Grass that seemed like it was nothing but a short mound of straw yesterday is 10 inches of green this morning. The rhodo has exploded into bloom, when I thought it had only set two or three buds. The catmint and roses already need cutting back. And the foxes haven’t eaten that damn chipmunk yet, the resourceful, ingenious little bastard, taunting me as he skitters through my raised vegetable beds. The “fencing” around the garden is a joke – the fox jumps over it, the chipmunk fits through it, and the skunks, apparently, stink their way right around it.

The Tuesday-that-feels-like-Monday after Memorial Day weekend has always been a starting gate for me – here it comes, the heat and humidity of an un-airconditioned summer – prepare yourself, it will last until the end of September. This year there is a good chance I’ll spend most or all of summer working from un-airconditioned home.

We’re used to it, and we’ve been through extreme summers before. Yet after record setting rains this spring, I’m nervous about what’s coming. Bigger storms, hotter heat.

One thing Angelic Daughter and I have been working on is trying to live in the now. We don’t know what’s coming tomorrow, so let’s enjoy today. No, sweetheart, I don’t know when the doctors and the scientists will have a vaccine. And no, my love, I don’t know when you can have meet-ups with your friends again. I’ll try to arrange some more Zoom chats, OK?

I’ve promised her a kiddie pool to cool off in this summer, and I’m pretty sure I’ll use it too. Our method of enduring heat is to douse ourselves in the brutally (and blessedly) cold Lake Michigan water that comes out of the hose, several times a day.

That sunrise peachy-pink light has heated to a lemony yellow. The damp cool of the morning will burn off and the moment is coming when we must close the windows downstairs, and reverse the fans upstairs, to try to blow the heat out of the house.

I grew up in a brick house without air conditioning, and I don’t remember suffering for it. Summer was what it was. We lived about two miles closer to the lake back then than we do now, but the lake effect is still strong here. So I’m trying not to jump ahead, to dread a summer when we can’t really find relief by going someplace air-conditioned, other than my furtive, masked and hurried trips to the grocery store, where I always forget something but don’t want to risk going back. Or by driving around, with the AC on in the car, only to return to the heat of the house.

Mike taught us how to keep it as cool as we could, by closing windows and drapes once the sun is high.Whoever built it in 1948 and planted the trees where they did was very good at some sort of mid-last-century passive solar shady cooling.

And there’s always the basement.

The birdsong changes as the sun gets higher. I have a few more minutes to enjoy it before my workday begins. I said I’d try to give you something, a little something something at least, every time I inflict a blog post on you, so here is today’s humble offering- I bet you already guessed:

Getting ready to close the windows and reverse the fans, I remain,

your working-on-staying-positive-even-though-I don’t-summer”-well,