Thursday, December 31, 2009

Endings and Beginnings

There is the most beautiful, gentle snow falling outside and there is a cardinal at the bird feeder out in the back yard. I'm sitting in my quiet, pre-dawn house, thinking about the past decade and wondering about the one approaching fast. (And watching the puppy peel a tennis ball. He's very talented.)

I'm not the same person I was on the last day of 1999, partying on the beach in Galveston, drinking Dom Perignon for the first (and last) time in my life. For one thing, I now have TWO children and a mini-van and the lines on my face aren't there because I slept with my face smooshed into a pillow. I've earned them.

Also? I'm not living in Texas anymore. And living in New York will change a person, fundamentally in some ways. In fact, I'd wager that I changed more in the past two years than in the rest of the decade combined. Some of that has to do with experiencing life with chronic pain. I cannot state strongly enough how terrible that is --on one's psyche, on one's spirit, on one's spiritual connection with the rest of the world. It's sort of like being encased in a dark box, with only a small shaft of light. You keep staring at that light but you can't really see anything because you're so overwhelmed by all of that darkness. Still, you know there's life out there if you could only see it.

Anyway, my pain is managed, for the most part. And it's New Year's Eve and we have our good friends Mike, Sherry and Jesse (also Texas ex-pats) coming over to celebrate with us.  It's very different from the big party we used to throw every year in Austin --most people up here have large extended families and they've grown up celebrating with them on every holiday and that's what they're doing THIS New Year's Eve, too.  It's interesting to me that this is the most densely populated area in the United States and I have the smallest social life I've ever had.  I don't THINK it's because I talk (or smell) funny, either. I don't THINK it's a personal thing.  I think it's just that the greatest difference between Austin and Long Island (and I've thought about this a lot --in fact, I am working on a book about it) is that Austinites are almost all from somewhere else and looking to connect, and people up here are from here and have plenty of connections, thank you.

But I digress.  (I may be changed but I am still ME.)

Another big change for me this year is that I won't be toasting the New Year at midnight with anything alcoholic to drink.  Yes, the reason the wine industry has fallen on such hard times of late is because I have given it up. Here, take a minute to sit down and put your head between your knees.  I know it's a shock. 

Initially, I gave it up because someone I love was having a very hard time with that particular demon and because I am so far away from this person and unable to do anything at all to help, it sort of made sense in my own Fuzzy, Squint-At-It, Barb Way to stop drinking FOR this person.  So, I did.

But there were a few things I forgot. One is that I actively battle depression even on my good days and alcohol does not help in this fight.  It's a depressant.  (Smacks self on head--Doh!) Also, while I don't think I have a problem with alcohol, per se, I really do have a problem with MODERATION.  Um.  In everything. So, trying to simply cut down was not especially successful.

I don't know if it's forever (here, breathe into this bag--you look a little shaken) and I'm not working some sort of 12-step program.  I'm just not drinking.  I don't care if other people around me drink and I'm not saying this choice is right for everyone.  I wouldn't even mention it except, y'all, I feel FREAKING FANTASTIC. It's hard to describe, actually. I just feel... MORE. Which is a scary concept for most people but it feels really, really good to me. I have energy and patience and creativity -- I even started taking guitar lessons. Plus, my sense of humor seems to be about three times as big. Gosh, I'm having such a good time with my kids and even my husband has commented that I just seem more like my old self--positive and happy.

(No, I haven't lost any weight.  Sigh.  That moderation thing again.)

So, you know, I feel so amazingly good that I wanted to share. That's all.

I'm looking forward to this new decade so much and I think that 2010 is going to see some wonderful, giant blessings for all of us. I think we'll all grow and change and that we'll find connections with each other on levels we didn't even suspect existed. Thank you all for staying on the ride with me.  I'll see you next year.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Happy Day After Day After Day After Boxing Day

Okay, so I've been stuck on that Christmas song for three days. (I wish the Robert Earl Keene didn't look so much like, well, a creepy serial murderer in this video. Sorry about that.)

I know. Y'all, I KNOW. But you know what?  It could be the best collection of those random moments that happen whenever families get together ever set to music. It's kind of loving in its snarkiness.


Christmas was lovely even though we were sadly lacking in extended family (and the associated drama) this year.  It was just the four of us and four pets, although two of them could easily have been the Bumpuses' dogs in A Christmas Story.  Santa proved to be a rocker when he brought the girls an electric guitar and amp and a full drum set as well as a blu-ray player disguised as a Playstation 3.  The girls (aided and abetted by Coop) gave me a new lens for my camera (which is totally the best lens I've ever had and makes me feel like a real photographer) and a certificate to a yarn store. I gave Coop a book and the tickets to the National Football Championship that he *** scored online.  (Coop did his graduate degree at UT and he's going with his father, who is an Alabama alumnus. It's a good thing they get along!) (***Yes, my streak of incredible lameness in the Presents for Coop arena continues unbroken.)

After the present-opening orgy, we  had a really lazy day. Three of us never got out of our pajamas.  I went back to bed, (because, ya'll, there was not one clear surface on which to sit in the whole downstairs) and read an entire book. I cooked a turkey but only a few trimmings and I finally broke down and washed a load of clothes, although I'd resolved not to do laundry on Christmas.  (Because, really, nothing celebrates the birth of our savior better than complete sloth and indulgence.) It was a great day.

Then on Boxing Day (I just love saying that for some reason.  Boxing Day.  Boxing Day.  BOXING DAY!) we went over to our friends' house for dinner, ping-pong and knitting.  It was wonderful.

The day after Boxing Day, and the Day AFTER the Day After Boxing Day (BOXING DAY!), we just hung out.  Tried to not get buried under the mound of used wrappings paper.  Filled a sock with catnip and watched the cats try to act like it was perfectly normal for them to be doing 360's  flying down the stairs and landing on the puppy's head. Coop taught Ana (11) how to play both the beginnings of Tom Sawyer AND Highway to Hell on the new electric guitar, thus achieving the high-point of his parenting career.  Had some sleepovers, got excited about the prospect of more snow and bought stuff to make chili.  The chili prospects dimmed when the snow prospects dimmed.

I don't know.  It's been a pretty relaxed holiday so far.  But then again, as I told a woman at the grocery store last night, "Santa brought my daughter a drum set for Christmas.  I'm in no hurry."

Happy Holidays from the Fam-uh-lee-ee.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

How's Your Holiday 'Sprit?'

Since I can't send you each a present during this holiday season, I am, instead, giving you this column. It's one of my favorites.  I wrote it back in 2002 and the year my book came out, it was the one I read to my book club.  As my own eyes welled with tears, I could feel everyone around me welling up, too.  It was my first experience ever with the amazing concept (still to this day, I can't believe it) that something I wrote could actually touch people in that way.

So, the thing is… I’ve been thinking about newborns.
We celebrate Christmas next week.  I tried  --I firmly RESOLVED-- not to let this year’s holiday season become chaotic and stressful.  I shopped early for presents, hoping that I wouldn’t have to go to stores after November 15th.  Nothing robs me of the Christmas spirit more than frazzled and impatient clerks.  Well, unless it’s frazzled and impatient shoppers.  I hate that Christmas music that starts playing in October.  I hate trying to find a parking place and how rude and rushed everyone seems to be.
But the thing is…it’s six days until Christmas.  Our phones have been out for two days.  My parents came to visit and to have their celebration with our kids and I barely saw them since I shamelessly exploited them as baby sitters while I rushed around trying to get something - -anything!--done.  I’m about to have a house full of company.  I’ve misplaced my mother-in-law’s present.  I still need to get some last-minute presents; two strands of Christmas lights have gone out and must be replaced; I have presents to deliver and wrap, cookies to bake, menus to plan and shop for (not to mention cook.)  And everything is taking six times as long to do.  For example, Ana and I made our cards but we haven’t sent them yet because it took me five trips to get my holiday pictures printed and I didn’t even notice there was a typo until I finally got them home.  “May the SPRIT of Christmas be yours.” 
That about sums it up. My Christmas “sprit” was pretty much shot.
I was feeling so incredibly stressed and behind in everything that I developed insomnia and for some reason, at 2:00 in the morning, I started organizing our photos into albums.  I did the most recent photos and the feeling of accomplishment was so great that I started organizing the photos from 1998 when my first child, Ana, was born.
Oh, those pictures captured it all.  There were pictures of my husband and me walking my belly on the greenbelt by our house and pictures of him putting the crib together.  There’s a picture of me asleep, having crashed while reading “What To Expect The First Year.”  I found myself grinning as I remembered how excited and scared we were.
And there it was: the first picture of Ana, still naked on the warming table in the delivery room. 
Pictures of my husband and me gazing at her, and then pictures of the grandparents holding her.  (Since Ana was born during Spring Break, three of the four college professor grandparents were at the hospital when she was born.)  There are pictures of the nurses and of our beloved obstetrician and good friend, Dr. Solomon. 
My mom had four children.  My mother-in-law had two.  Dr. Solomon has delivered thousands, I’m sure.  And yet, on every single face, there is this look of awed wonderment, this quiet happiness.  There’s this calm acknowledgment of having participated in a miracle.  My dad said it best that day on the ride home with my mom.  “There is something so touching about each new life coming into the world.”
It’s been a long time since I’ve looked at those pictures. 
But I found it there, you know.  Right when I needed to be reminded of it, I found the real spirit of Christmas.
Regardless of religious affiliation, it seems to me that every one of us can find beauty in the birth of a little baby in a stable in Bethlehem – beauty in a story of how life finds a way in the most inhospitable of environments.   There is beauty in the hope that is physically manifested by a newborn baby –  each one such a bundle of potential and each one with an endless capacity for love.  Holding a newborn is like holding a ray of light: , limitless, translucent, fragile and beautiful.
Can you picture the barn where Jesus was born?  Perhaps the animals took some of the chill out of the air and maybe in the dim light, the sounds of the animals breathing were comforting to Mary.  Can’t you just imagine the chaos and political upheaval going on all about them and yet, when Mary went into labor, you know nothing else mattered.  (Ana’s birth was via emergency c-section and there were a LOT of people in the room but I only remember the face of my husband and then her shrill cry…)  Maybe there was a lamp or candle so that Mary and Joseph could look at the face of their first-born child.  Maybe it’s THEIR look of wonderment and joy and the dawning of a love bigger than any they’d known that I see reflected in those pictures of the people present at Ana’s birth.
Once again, it seems that I learned a lesson about how unimportant worldly things really are in life.  I feel dumb.  I never wanted the focus of our holidays to be on STUFF and noise and chaos.  When I look back at the Christmases that have meant the most to me, I can’t even remember anything about the gifts.  It’s the way my whole family was (peacefully) together.  It’s the music we played and the carols we sang and the love in the room.  And now that I am grown and a parent, the only things I really want for Christmas are the enchanted faces of my children on Christmas morning and time to spend with those I love best.  I couldn’t buy any of that, even if I tried.  I resolve again not to squander the bounty of love that I’ve been given.  I am so blessed and half the time I am too busy to remember that.
Today, I spent an hour with Jane outside on an unseasonably warm day, digging in the sand box and tickling her toes while I pushed her in the swings.  My cards and baking and cleaning, etc. were waiting for me when we came inside.  But I’ve learned that you have to take your Christmas spirit where you find it.  And that the most meaningful things often come in the smallest packages.
May God bless you all and may you have many—MANY-- moments that fill you with the “sprit” of the season.

(c) Barbara Cooper 2002  

May the blessings of the holidays rain down upon you.  And just in case, you're still not feeling the "Sprit," here's a picture of our puppy.


Love you guys,

PS: The Christmas tree lights won this year.  I have accepted defeat.  Really, I'm okay with it.  As long as I don't look at the darn tree, I'm okay, I mean. It would be childish to obsess over being beaten by some stupid tiny lights, right?

I have been unable to find replacement red tipped bulbs to keep them blinking so right now, I would wager only about 20% of the tree blinks.  Next year, I'm going to pulverize the non-blinkers in front of the others.  That'll show 'em!

PPS: I don't know why Google changed my font size, nor why I can't change it back.  But look at me!  I'm so calm about that kind of stuff.  I'm so Zen!  I'm so eating a lot of fudge!  Hard to be hatin' with a mouth full of espresso fudge... 


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

STILL Not the Big Catch-Up Post

Please ignore the fact that periodically, my computer just up and publishes some half-written, incoherent post without me even so much at LOOKING at the publish button. It's a busy little computer, what with trying to drive me SMACK OUT OF MY MIND and all.  My husband and Ana gave me a new keyboard for my wine-drenched Mac and it works just perfectly.  The real problem is that the laptop keyboard works intermittently, but only when Satan feels like messing with me.  So suddenly my computer will start (I am so not joking) typing random sixes (as in: 666) and then I know other buttons will be pushed.  Posts will be published. Advil will be required.

It's sort of been the holidays of Things Not Working. The coffee pot appears to be on its way out, as does the dryer.  The worst is my Mac, though, because I so LURVE it and also, because it's entirely my own fault.  I took it to the Genius Bar so the (snarky, teenage-ish) geniuses could have a little looksy and they said, "Well, it will be $755 for us to replace the keyboard.  But that might not fix it."

So, now I have a loaner laptop from my friend Sherry but you know how it is when you're trying to get used to a new computer and nothing is personalized the way you are accustomed and then you keep remembering that it's a loaner and you become afraid to exploit your friend's goodwill by customizing her computer to YOUR needs by importing all sorts of files and bookmarks, etc.? So, you import your photos on some other computer, which isn't linked to the one you're using and therefore...

Well.  Anyway. 

Why, yes, that's a big hole in my ceiling, thanks for asking.

But nothing, no, NOTHING, can daunt my holiday cheer because this week, my girls and I made the  three-tiered cookies that are traditional in my family.  See?

I have been waiting for eleven years to make them with my daughters.  It's a dream come true!

The 3-tiered cookies are special because they require teamwork and counting and also, because they were my dad's favorite cookies.  They are simple butter cookies, cut out in three sizes and "glued" together with red current jam.  (Seedless current jam, which I forgot but hey, they turned out fine anyway.) And then they are iced with a lemon juice and confectioner's sugar mixture.

I will tell you that, had I had the patience and energy in the past few years, I might been able to make  them with the girls.  But you know how it takes a lot of energy and patience to do Team Cooking?  I didn't have those things.  I have them this year, though and you're going to laugh when I tell you why.

I don't know if I've ever told you but I don't take vitamins.  They make me sick, whether I take them at night or in the morning and I can never seem to remember to take them when I'm eating.  I have tried them ALL.  No, seriously, I have tried them ALL.  My husband is just a fearsome and relentless vitamin pusher and he's brought me home vitamins disguised as CHOCOLATE.  Nothing doing.  I could manage a kids' vitamin so for years, I took these ones shaped like astronauts, eventually graduating to Flintstone's gummis.

But a few weeks ago when I posted about battling a depressive episode, one of my lovely readers, Joanna, sent me an e-mail about a vitamin she takes called Levity.  (You have to get past the name.) It bills itself as a mood enhancer but seems to primarily be sort of a b-complex vitamin. I figured, "Well, what could it hurt?"  I mean, they're CHEAP at about $7.50 a month, and the worst thing I could think of is that they'd end up stacked next to the bazillion dollars worth of vitamins I have in my cabinet already.

Except, y'all?

I think they changed my life.

Seriously.  Suddenly I have the energy to do things I haven't done in YEARS.  Like, um, COOKING. The vitamins taste sort of disgusting and I HAVE to take them with food but I am actually making that happen because I feel so much better.

Now if I could figure out how to give my Mac a dose of Levity, I could finally finish and post all of these posts I have stacked up.  Once I delete all the sixes and eat a cookie, I mean.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Oh. Oh, I Get It Now.

(I tried to post this all day yesterday, during what seemed to be a MONSOON.  Our Internet and cable and phones were all completely out.  Today it is beautiful and sunny and cold and I'm tempted to just say, "Never Mind!" Except, you know, I had to go run errands in that mess yesterday and I may be traumatized for life.)

So, last year was really our first winter here in New York and the season went out of its way to be ENCHANTING. I couldn't understand what all these people were talking about when they groused about the horrible weather and the ugly snow and the long, long, gray, soul-sucking winters. I found the snow CHARMING --light and fluffy and falling usually on the weekends so that my kids could have fun and exercise by sledding down our mammoth driveway.

Today, however, I get what these New Yorkers were talking about. Today when I woke up, the ground was covered in snow! YIPPEE! Except, dudes, what were those gusts of little rocks flinging themselves at my windows? Oh, that would be sleet. And really big gusts of windy rain.


This weather SUCKS.

Jane (9), naturally, feels the same way I do about the snow, though, and she gamely got bundled up and went outside in it. Until the puppy knocked her down in his exuberance. (The PUPPY, also true to form, thought the snow was for EATING.) (In the picture above, the puppy is the large one. He'll be ten months on the 14th.) (Not that I'm concerned or anything.)

Ana (not a teenager, although she plays one in real life) refused to show any enthusiasm for anything.  Anything at all in this world, which is terrible and this weather, which is terrible, and school, which is terrible.  Of course, as SHE was getting out of the car to walk into school, her umbrella blew inside out (it's one of the umbrellas we bought at the Tour de France which cost a small fortune and is utterly, utterly worthless.  Except for the cute French writing on it.) thus completely reinforcing her mood.  (Poor little one.)

But anyway, this brings up something that I've thought before but never really mentioned.  Why is it that there are so few covered walkways here on Long Island?  I mean, we had them all over the place in Austin (probably to protect us from the broiling heat.)  I don't get it.  We don't even have some sort of covering over our front door so if it happens to be raining when our guests come over, they have to stand in the rain until we can beat the dogs back and open the door.

Also, why do none of the bathrooms in our house have heat lamps?  We had them in Austin and we used them at least three times a year.  Here, we could pretty much use them every day from November through April and there's nary a one to be found. In fact, we had to install an extra outlet in our master bathroom so we could plug in a space heater.

We don't have a gas starter in our fireplace, either--you know, a gas line that starts your firewood burning?  No one I've talked to has ever even heard of one of those up here but in Texas, they're kind of standard equipment in houses with fireplaces.  It just seems odd to me that the weather is such a force up here and so few concessions are made toward making living with it a bit easier.

Maybe we Southerners are just wimps when it comes to the cold and these New Yorkers are a hardier lot?  But then again, maybe these New Yorkers could learn a thing or two from the South. That's probably just my cold feet talking...

Actually, you know what?  Maybe we ALL could learn a thing or two from our cats.  This is what I found when I went upstairs a bit ago:

Sunday, December 06, 2009

I'm Baack

I was cleaning out my office a few months ago and I put one of the stuffed sheep that Ana had given me into the "To Be Donated" pile. (I'm TRYING to declutter and I kept the SMALLER sheep she gave me.) Later that evening, this is what I saw in my office:

Welcome back, buddy. There is always room for something that was given to me by one of my kids. You can sit on the printer.

Okay, then, here's the thing: I'm fighting off a pretty severe depressive cycle, despite the fact that I have A) the funniest, sparkliest kids ever, B) good friends --really good friends and C) a puppy. Sometimes, even the fact that I am the most blessed person on this planet cannot keep the black curtain from descending -- because it is hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head, as Eleanor Roosevelt once said.

Sometimes those closest to me (Coop) wonder why I tell the whole world about such struggles. Well. I talk about them to demystify them. To make sure I'm not living in denial, which is sort of a mode of operation embraced by my family of origin. And also because I want my children to know that struggling to keep yourself balanced and mentally healthy is not a character flaw. I am not a bad person because I battle depression. In fact, taking responsibility for my own mental health makes me a responsible parent and may just be the best thing I model for my kids.

Anyway, that's why I've been so scarce around these parts. Thanks to everyone who wrote asking me if I was okay. I AM okay and getting better all the time.

I'm planning (and actually writing!) a big post about dinner parties and Thanksgiving and going to get out Christmas Tree but I wanted to swing by and say howdy in the meantime. (Also to let you know that the Blink-O-Meter is at 90%, currently.)