THE LONGEST NIGHT OF THE YEAR

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THE LONGEST NIGHT OF THE YEAR

Solstice: noun—either of the two times in the year, the summer solstice and the winter solstice, when the sun reaches its highest or lowest point in the sky at noon, marked by the longest and shortest days.

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I survived the darkness again. Yesterday, December 21st, 2019, was the shortest day of the year, the longest night of the year.   Of course, the day had 24 hours like they all do, but the amount of daylight was the least there will be for another year.

And I didn’t simply survive it. I celebrated it. Along with my siblings and our families, we gathered at the home of our youngest brother and his family to once again welcome another Christmas–complete with a feast of our favorite foods.

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We have never missed this holiday together, and I am so grateful.

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Gail, Suzanne and I have our annual Christmas gift exchange. This is the pinnacle of gift-giving and receiving for all three of us, we delight especially in finding the perfects gifts for each other throughout the year, and stashing them away for this special celebration.

Second only to that joy is the receiving end of this exchange. This great care and caution we take in procuring the gifts is always worth the laughter and joy we create when we share our perfect finds.

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Gail knew Suzanne would love a gift card from one of her favorite stores–Ross–but she wasn’t able to get there to get her one, so she designed her own. 

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And speaking of joy, if you look closely at Gail’s gift in hand in this picture, you will see a memento of a place in Wichita that brought us so much joy in our youths. It was an amusement park not far from our grandparent’s house, and when we were treated to a trip there, the joy was unparalleled. It no longer stands; its former vibrance is now replaced by dilapidation and desertion, and this breaks our hearts more than a little. Suzanne, in her thoughtfulness, found these stickers and gave us each one.   Sometimes the simplest gifts are the best.

If you, too, have fond memories from this special place from your childhood, give us an Amen when you are done reading.

No joy is more savored and special than once again commemorating the arrival of the best Christmas gift we ever received: our youngest brother Ryan. He arrived on Christmas eve 46 years ago, and we never let it go by unnoticed. Mom and Dad always made sure to observe his birthday despite the holiday celebrations. When Ryan was a kid, sometimes Mom even made a special celebration for him in the summer to draw attention to his birthday away from the holiday.

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I awoke today to bright sunshine and tolerable wind. The temperature hung below the freezing mark for a few hours, but as the day progresses, it is already above 50° on its way to a predicted high of 56°.  I’ll take it. I have two loads of laundry hanging outside.

It will only be a gain of about 90 seconds, but there will be more daylight today than yesterday. It will be noticeable mostly in my mind, but that’s where it counts.

I live by sunlight; I am solar-powered. Even though winter officially began yesterday, my mindset is now turned toward spring. I will, however, try to retrain my mind to savor the day, no matter the weather, no matter how much sunshine I may or may not see.

Because I am a trivia nerd, I had to find out difference between solstice and equinox. Yesterday was the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. June 21st will be the summer solstice, the first day of summer and the shortest night of the year. An equinox is the time or date—twice each year—at which the sun crosses the celestial equator, when day and night are of equal length. In simple terms, this translates into the first day of spring, and the first day of fall.

In my post Something to Look Forward To (January 7th 2018), I wrote that Mom helped us to see the importance of having just that. I am now looking forward to the vernal equinox, just three months away. But I will do my best to savor the winter.

Every day, no matter the weather outside or the conditions deep inside each of us, every moment is a gift. In the winter, I have to dig a little deeper sometimes to find that joy.

I read recently that in ancient times, people grew anxious and depressed when the days grew shorter, thinking perhaps the sun was dying.   They worshipped the sun as a god, and without it, they would surely perish. In order to sustain themselves and life in general, they created midwinter rituals to coax back the light, warmth and abundance, which ultimately culminated on the night of the winter solstice. They burned great bonfires complete with music and dancing as their message to the god of the sun that they were doing their part, and needed the sun to keep coming back to do its part. Apparently, it worked.

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We no longer have to doubt the return of the sun. For longer than any of us can imagine, it has come up every morning and goes down every night. It’s presence each day becomes shorter, until, once again, it becomes longer.

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The wheat lying dormant in our Kansas fields reminds me that winter is a time for slower growth and perhaps more rest. It is a time to quietly prepare for the harvest, a time of renewal and reaping that, as long as I can remember, has always come.

It is a time of reflection, a time to think about the year to come. When the sun comes back in full force, we will be ready to reflect its light and warmth to everyone in our own sphere.

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It is a time of restoration, a time to replenish our inner energies that were wisely, but energetically spent when the sun shone bright and warm upon us. If we simply ask, we often are granted this restored energy when the time is right and ripe.

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It is a time of rejuvenation, a time to celebrate the gift of youth, even if we are not as young as we’d like to be. If we can still move our bodies and brains, then we are young enough. Looking through the eyes of the young can bring us a fresh, innocent perspective.

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It is a time of release, a time to let go of those things we may be holding on to that are not helping us grow. If it doesn’t make you happy, and it doesn’t make anyone else’s life better either, perhaps it’s time to let it go.

Along with the release, letting go of past hurts makes it a time of reconciliation. Even if the other party doesn’t care, or if they thought they never did anything wrong, forgiveness is a healing balm for you. Equally as important is forgiving yourself for your own shortcomings. Dragging those dead carcasses around doesn’t help anyone. Leaving them behind helps everyone—especially you.  Christmas is the perfect time.

 

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As the sun set on the shortest day of the year, I was able to capture images of the horizon outside Ryan’s front door. Stepping out and facing west, this panoramic view never ceases to renew me, even when I know the sun will be gone for the longest night of the year. His home is just down the road a few miles from where we grew up, offering an unobstructed view of one of our home state’s most exquisite gifts—the Kansas sunset.

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The last picture was taken about 5:40 p.m. I said goodbye and thank you to the sun, knowing the darkness would soon come, but would also be gone in the morning. And, as always, it was.

The promise continues.

I will take some time to renew, so my posts will be hit or miss for a while. Just like the sun, I will be back. I simply need to rest, relax and retool in order to renew.

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Reading is one of my all-time favorite pastimes, especially in the winter. I must share my recommendations with you regarding a great new book by a great author. My sister-in-law Lara recently wrote an amazing Christmas novel. I typically don’t read fiction, but she hooked me with a powerful story as well as amazing local history, as it is set in the area we grew up. Please search this title on Amazon to purchase it as an e-book, or in print as well. You won’t regret it.

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Merry Christmas to you from the sisters of The Sister Lode. We wish you a blessed holiday, as well as a season of rest, relaxation, restoration, rejuvenation, reflection and renewal.

 

 

 

 

THE BROTHER LODE

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THE BROTHER LODE

In Suzanne’s last home, she had a family picture hanging in the foyer.  “That’s nice.”   You may think.  “Was it her family, or her siblings and parents?”  These are questions you likely have now.

The answer is, neither.  It was a family picture of The Brady Bunch.

Suzanne was only three when Ryan was born, so she likely didn’t realize the upset he created for quite some time, but when she did, she wasn’t happy about it.

She loved—and obviously still loves–the Brady Bunch.  She probably loved her little brother too, until she realized he ruined our 3/3 boy/girl count, and with his arrival, we were no longer The Brady Bunch.

Ryan arrived in our family on Christmas Eve 1973.  In our pre-Christmas caroling spirit, we changed up the words to a then-popular Christmas song, and sang it to Mom:  “Christmas is coming, Mom is getting fat.”  She took it in stride.  By the time it was time to deliver the 7th—and last–child, she could handle just about anything from us.

Christmas Eve was typically our big celebration; Santa always arrived in his own secretive style.  He seemed to know to wait until supper was served, the kitchen was cleaned and we were herded upstairs.  Our grandpa lived in town, and he always joined our family for the holiday celebrations.  He stayed downstairs and helped Mom and Dad help Santa.

Suzanne will still beg to differ, but Dad was at the hospital with Mom that year on Christmas Eve.  Grandpa pulled it off all by himself.  She was only three, so I am not trusting her recall of the big event.  Mom didn’t drive herself 30 miles there while in labor.

I remember the phonecall around 9:30 from Dad:  “It’s a boy!” 

Ryan had arrived.

I remember going to visit them on Christmas Day.  I was seven, and I wanted a doll called Baby Alive.  I didn’t get it, but Mom joked that she did.

I was decked out in another gift from Santa, a long, red and white checked gingham dress.  Mom acted so surprised to see me in it, and I felt the glow of a new big sister with the events of the night before.  The dress was all I needed to shine.  Somewhere is a picture of me in it; when it turns up, I will post it.

I was the fifth of us seven.  Two brothers were right ahead of me; born 3 ½ years and 17 months before me, respectively.  They were my buddies.  Gail was before them and six years older, so not only was she busy with all the work I have already detailed in previous posts, I’m sure I was the annoying little sister.

David and John let me tag along, and subsequently, I became a tomboy.  I played in the dirt, made forts in the woods behind our house, climbed trees, rode motorcycles, read Motor Trend magazine and cried when Dad wouldn’t cut my hair after he cut theirs.

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Suzanne, Ryan and me wallowing in a mud bog after a heavy summer rain.  I told you I was a tomboy.  Looks like I needed a haircut from Dad, or anyone. 

David and John could—and often did—bring me to tears as I got older.  The memories of their relentless teasing and roughhousing have faded somewhat, and are now replaced by ongoing mutual respect, kindness, love and peace toward each other.   Our oldest brother Gary was eight years older than me, so I was likely the perpetually annoying little sister to him.  I don’t remember him treating me as such though, and he would likely now disagree.

My memories of Ryan are less painful.  Actually, likely because he was seven years younger than me, I think he knew better than to cause me any pain.  I don’t even recall any episodes with him, or while observing him with others that would lead me to believe that he had it in him to be anything but laid back, mellow and generally observant.  He had six older siblings to watch and learn from, so he likely did just that.

He made his own unique way, did his own thing and gave his own unique contributions to our family.

The gift he continues to give—in my estimation—is his sense of humor.  When I asked him as I was writing this, “What was it like to be born on Christmas Eve?”  he replied, with no hesitation in his monotone voice that adds to the humor, “I don’t know, I can’t remember.”

Because we had to try to laugh to keep from crying just after Mom and Dad died, we were able to find some humor in the early, most painful days.  Gail is Ryan’s godmother, the Catholic role model that not only is expected to be a positive influence as a godparent, but also the person/persons that would be most suited to take the child in the event that child loses their parents.   At the wake the night before their funeral, Ryan—at age 35 and seated next to me, leaned in and whispered, “Does this mean I have to go live with Gail?”

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Gail, Suzanne and I are the sisters we are in part because of our brothers.  We have our sisterly bonds, but we also have our own unique relationships with each of our four brothers, and that, I know for sure, makes us better sisters to each other.

In recognition of them, and in celebration of Ryan’s arrival on Christmas Eve 44 years ago—even though he doesn’t remember it—I say thank you God for my brothers.

 

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Next Friday evening, my stepson and his family will join us from Wichita for an early Christmas celebration.  Saturday and early Sunday, we will celebrate Christmas with my family and my siblings with their families at Ryan’s house.  Nine years ago on that first Christmas without Mom and Dad, we vowed to keep the Christmas holiday together with each other in their honor, and to continue to forge our sibling bonds.  Our oldest brother Gary will be with his family in Idaho, but he will be with us in spirit, and by phone too.  We will observe and celebrate Ryan’s birthday separate from Christmas, just like Mom and Dad were always sure to do.

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The stars of our Christmas Eve 1973 show at Mom and Dad’s 50th anniversary celebration, October 2007.

Sunday, I will return to my home with my family to celebrate Christmas Eve.  There will be no post on this sacred Sunday night.

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We  got the tree out of the box and stood it up four days ago.  Until today, it sat bare.  I won’t deny that I still struggle to get in the spirit when it comes to decorating my home and my tree.  My boys were gone all day, and I started without them.  The momentum carried me once I got started, but much like my pre-Thanksgiving baking, I had a moment.  It still hits me during the holidays, the time of year when their absence is felt most acutely.  Just like the Thanksgiving moment, it passed quickly.  It passed through me, and it was gone.   My family came home and helped, and it was the festive occasion is should be.

I found myself putting up the same decorations in the same places I always do, the same decorations I have put up for years, mostly without thinking much about it.  This year, however, I stopped myself when something didn’t feel as good as I thought perhaps it could.

“You always put that Santa right there.  It’s where it goes,”  I said to myself.

“But I don’t want to put it there this year,” I said back to myself.  “I don’t even think I want to put it up at all.  I don’t know why, but it makes me blue.”

Fine, whatever.  Suit yourself,”  my rational side said to my emotional side.

So I didn’t put it up.  And it felt good.  I took my own advice from last week, and I changed it up.  I put Santa back in the box, and went on with the decorations that sparked joy in me, leaving several others in the box if they didn’t.  I changed my decorating traditions, and I like what I see.

Sometimes, suiting yourself is the only way to go.  Sometimes,  the smallest changes on the outside bring the biggest shifts inside.

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I wish you all the peace of the spirit of Christmas.  I wish for this peace every day of the year for you.

For those who are celebrating the first Christmas after the loss of a loved one, my heart breaks for you, but Christmas hope shines on every day of the year to remind us they are still with us.  Even if seems the pain won’t lessen, remember you will become stronger with each passing year.  We are living proof.

Merry Christmas.

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Happy Birthday Ryan.  You are the Christmas gift who keeps giving.