Fresh Air and Mirth

Some people are so generous, so wonderfully share-y, so thrilled for you to join in on their fun, they hardly appreciate the magnitude of their gifts. I hope we all know one or two of these fabulous souls. Or maybe you’re one of them… and wondering what’s this all about? I mean, who wouldn’t be wonderfully share-y given the means and opportunity? That’s their mindset, these happy givers. Do you know them? When you thank them, hug them, attempt to return the favor, or even raise a glass in their honor, you’ll get an aw shucks shoulder shrug. And they mean it. This is a genuine aw shucks shoulder shrug. And then they totally want to return to the fun awesomeness you were having because your heartfelt thank yous are probably just delaying more fun awesomeness.

I spent the past two days in a picturesque mountain town with my happy giver friends who invited us to join them. My kids had never been on skis, and when you live up here, apparently your kid becomes some weirdo outcast if he’s never been on skis. For me, the idea of adhering thick knives to bent boots in order to plummet more gracefully down a cold mountain sounds like a ridiculous way to get injured or (gasp) delay cocktail hour… but my boys were up for the scary challenge. So we stuffed duffles with puffy clothes and joined our outdoorsy friends for a mini-break, pre-Christmas get-away.

The house belonged to their friends, also of the happy giver ilk. I mean, who does this? Sure, use our house while we aren’t there, bring friends, make sure to test the hot tub, light the fireplace, sample the wine cellar, enjoy enjoy enjoy? Who doesn’t worry that the house will be a messy wreck for Christmas or that kids that aren’t yours will lose the board game pieces? The happy givers don’t. My mother would rope off the living room and restrict certain bathroom usage for days prior to the arrival of guests: vacuum lines in the carpet and triangulated toilet paper arrangements were necessary indictors that our house was ready for an audience. The notion of permitting others free range enjoyment of your home mere moments before a major holiday is beyond the pale. It also betrays a belief that a house and its contents are just stuff, and people and fun and fellowship always trump stuff. And can’t we all, especially at this time of year, use this reminder?

Oh, did you want to read all about the skiing? Skiing types always do. The conditions, quality, weather, memorable “runs” and tricks, and oh-we-ran-into-the so-and-sos… there is nothing a skier enjoys more than to share his zeal for skiing. The wide-eyed euphoria that accompanies people who happily hurl themselves down mountains is quite similar to my exhaustive enjoyment of peonies and caladiums and dahlias. I’m equally passionate about pursuits on flatter, warmer grounds. But nearly everyone strapped to go-fasters (save a few over-bundled, overtired toddlers) was full of fresh air and mirth. Because teenagers exist, it’s possible that so does the occasional, grumpy skier. But it’s impossible to be anything but delighted around skiing types who are skiing. Fresh air and mirth. It’s contagious.

I still didn’t tell you about, you know, the skiing. Well, that’s because I don’t. In case this wasn’t made plain: I don’t ski. I was content to wander the lodge, mix hot chocolate into my coffee, and have an appropriate venue for the debut of my mohair legwarmers. But my boys? Champs. Two lessons and they were switch backing down the mountain with a cool ease that made my heart soar. Even though controlled mountain plummeting scares me all bejeezously, I do want my kids to try new things. Better still when they love the new thing and don’t suck at it. But the biggest gift of this mini-break get-away was the memories made in an idyllic setting surrounded by people we love, and hosted from afar by generous people who care more about celebrations than stuff.

And now the usually slothful Lees will greet this Christmas with grateful hearts, full of fresh air and mirth, inspired to be happy givers this season, too. Maybe we’ll even plan our own trip for controlled mountain plummeting… or something equally outdoorsy that allows for legwarmer accessories during and Proseccos afterwards.

Merry Christmas, friends!

Happy little skiers...

Happy little skiers…

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Quinoa Shampoo

My shampoo lists quinoa as a vital ingredient. Quinoa. In the shampoo. Seriously. Add kale and goji berries to my daily lather and these curls would probably auto-twist into a protected enclave for honeybees. But my hair is awesome– all thick and that good sort of wavy and blonde (with assistance). I won’t demur with false modesty if you have the thoughtful notion to compliment me on my swingy locks. Ancient whole grains are not responsible for its fabulousness: this hair is still new(ish). Most of you have children and iPhones older than my ponytail. And because this mane is my badge of verve, spunk, and survival, I’m going to be as smugly proud of it as a Prius-driving, composting, “I Voted,” recycler.

A hair post on The Cancerversary is predictable for this gabby gal. Three years ago today, in April’s living room, I learned that my hair would be included, but would be the least of my losses. Breast cancer does not tolerate a reasonable, disease-free interval after which a celebratory remission is announced. And so the previously bald and anatomically reorganized veterans are left waiting, waiting, waiting. After the first year, I was just so happy and relieved to be finished with treatment. Year two found me grateful for everyone and everything and especially the ability to hold aloft a barrette. But year three? Hope feels jinxy, but the alternative is that every ache and pain is cause for worry and restless nights… or worse, biopsies and scans. So girls like me choose prayer and yield to the que sera sera quality of life colored by cancer.

Anniversaries are too powerful to be ignored. Unfortunately, this holiday season will always recall a scary time for me. Naturally, I approach this with the brand of humor only the cancered would find funny in a holiday enclosure:

“Another year… totally not dead! Merry Christmas from the Lees!”

Cancerversaries also make a sleepless night or two sort of inevitable and a drink or two sort of necessary. So I stumbled into a late night bloggy Internet discussion that I assumed was about kindness, but that was actually about race, and I was accused of microaggression (yikes) and white privilege (admittedly). As a white girl who shampoos with quinoa, I cannot imagine what I thought I could add to the discussion. And although distracting, this wasn’t the best antidote for my annual freak out. But I’m as tired of anger as I am of looming cancer. I want feel-good, Christmassy stories, people! Distract me with mirth!

It is an unfair luxury to be exasperated by angry people. No one is trying to kill my kids or treating them like criminals. I cannot know that anger. I believe we can all just assume the best of each other because no one has ever, ever assumed anything else of me. I won’t apologize for my bubble, but it is ridiculous and unkind to rest inside of it and demand that justified fury should be kept at a lower simmer using prettier words.

For someone who enjoys baser language, I am a sucker for the pretty words. I want everything tied up with a bow; I want examples in the universe where we act like One People, and proof that the world isn’t a shitstorm of racism, fear, and cancer. Even if it is. It’s Christmas, friends. Let’s share the good stories. Here’s mine. It’s short:

Year three. You were there in ways big and small, loud and quiet, prayerful and even angry. And it helped. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

My hair isn't just awesome, it's gluten free.

My hair isn’t just awesome, it’s gluten free.

Potty Mouth Christmas

Those of you who include me in your Facebook feeds might occasionally wish you didn’t. But if we’re friends (in the world webby ether or of a fleshier variety), you know that the Christmas Market at the Church of the Redeemer has mercifully and finally come to an end. As the Church Service League President this year, it was my job to interrupt your BuzzFeed shares, What Color Is Your Animal Spirit?, and Santa’s lap pics with my Shop for Jesus alerts. Organizing the yearly fundraiser is truly an honor, but in the 11th hour, it feels more like that dream where you’ve forgotten to go to class all semester and here’s the final exam.

Churchy do-gooding is mostly fun; and the entire week was peppered with the Christmassy smells of wreaths and greens, giggles between good friends, and moments when the Holy Spirit is tangibly flowing all over the garland-draped church. But the rather awesome responsibility of raising money loomed… and that made me want to hurl my chicken and mushrooms all over the place.

Terrified that the generous people who had donated houses and family jewels and lavish parties to our live auction would be rewarded with a quiet room of un-bidding church folk, I couldn’t push anything past my pylorus. I recently raved about people who have the Godly gift of inspiring generosity in others, baffled by the criticism of any sort of philanthropy. Though I thrive in the busyness of passion-fueled volunteerism, asking people for money will always be awkward for me. Bernie keeps reminding me that this aspect of charity work isn’t really one of my keener skills. And because it makes me physically ill, he’s probably right.

What my stomach always forgets is that this annual event is a team effort coordinated by really lovely souls and presented to a parish hall brimming with people who want to be part of something great and good. Nearly all of the money we raise is channeled to outreach efforts, and results in real improvements at our sister Church, our food pantries, care for our community’s elders, even our West African brothers and sisters afflicted with deadly Ebola. It’s a night to think about others, and that’s what everyone does, and there’s really no reason to get all pukey.

Floating on that isn’t-everyone-and-everything-just-wonderful feeling that accompanies a weekend of Christian fellowship, I returned my attention to my own home and hearth, sorely neglected during Christmas Market week. The halls were un-decked. The cupboard was bare. The checking account was overdrawn. Sagging pumpkins at the doorstep, half-unpacked clothes from Thanksgiving travels, and not a single photo in any of our cameras or iThings worthy of a holiday card quickly froze all those floaty feelings and grumpy, potty-mouth mommy delivered chastened, weepy children to the bus stop yesterday.

Yelling at the boys to “Fucking smile! We’re going to miss the goddamn bus!” in order to snap the Christmas photo before school doesn’t align terribly well with the spirit of the season. Zealot Sister wisely counseled that I should avoid unimportant activities that sap the joy out of the next two weeks. And after a deep breath and a pot of coffee, the necessity of a perfect picture or pumpkin-free stoops seems… stupid. So does cursing at small children, in spite of the breadth of their early morning assholery.

With a better attitude and entire platter of French toast, I greeted two happy little guys this morning who couldn’t wait to tell me about their ham radio exam. After umpteen classes and hundreds of sample questions, my boys passed the test and have earned operating privileges for vintage communication. Sometimes I wonder if we should install lockers in the home so my kids can practice escaping them. But most times, these boys delight and amuse me and I can go entire weeks without wanting to backhand them (kidding) or demonstrating the correct context for bad words in angry sentences (confessing). Fa la la la la… la la la la.

I’m going to slow down, friends. Drink the entire pot of coffee. Send the blurry Christmas photo… after the New Year. Watch “Love, Actually” over and over and over. Order takeout. Leave gigantic tips for the wait staff wherever I go. Pop the Prosecco and read every holiday letter enclosure. The King is coming whether I pitch the pumpkins or not. And though my home and hearth may not be ready, it’s pretty important that my heart is.

Fa la la la la… la la la la.

The best plot line in the movie...

The best plot line in the movie…