Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Lists of Christmas

There's nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.
Erma Bombeck

Last night while babysitting my two-year-old granddaughter, I pulled out my old copy of Peter Spier's Christmas!

The colorful graphics depict the chaotic season so well. No words, just pictures of the process -- setting up of lights/trees/, the shopping and wrapping, card/ornament/cookie making, pageants and caroling, food shopping, the big dinner, the opening of gifts, the mess of it all -- the kitchen filled with dishes and the floors draped in wrappings. The exhausted parents. The unchosen Christmas trees lying forlorn at the tree stands.

Then the cleanup, the discarded trees and garbage lining the streets and the reboxing of the decorations and lights. A graphic at the end of the book says only 360 days or so until it all has to be done again.

This morning I listed in my journal all the things I could possibly do today.

Make that last batch of cookies
Sew that smaller blanket for my granddaughter and one for her babydoll
Go downtown and watch the Christmas tuba concert on the capitol's steps
Iron the tablecloth and napkins
Go see the quirky 37th Street lights

I don't feel like doing anything except sit in my bright bedroom and read. I'm tired. As I age, life seems to speed by faster and faster. Christmas arrives sooner and sooner. I swear I did all this stuff only a couple months ago. But, once again:

The decorations are up - inside and out
The gifts purchased, wrapped and mailed or under the tree
Boring Christmas letter written and mailed
Christmas Eve menu planned and ingredients purchased
Cookies made (I've lost my touch -- need to rekindle baking techniques)
Swedish cardamon coffee bread and lefsa made
A host of other little things not remembered at the moment

Pretty fine-looking piece of lefsa, if I do say so myself

But I won't lie. Christmas was definitely more fun when I was a kid. My lists then consisted only of dreams:

A new bike
A new doll
New pajamas
A snowcone machine
A new game

Such anticipation while my mother worked her tail off to make Christmas happen. I had no idea.

In my current life my lists and duties have lessened. I don't have all the children's events to prepare for and attend -- the church pageants and school parties. The guitar recitals and band concerts. My children are off on their own and my parents no longer alive so I don't have three meals a day to prepare for a crowd.

But planning for Christmas Eve is still a huge venture. Detail work.  Lots of detail work. All the little stuff that makes it special. All the little stuff possibly no one notices except me.

Which is probably why today I'm choosing how I want to spend my day before the final crush begins. I do need to dust the house and get the mailman his yearly gift. On Sunday, I'll need to make certain my fresh dill is still fresh and I don't need another visit to the insane grocery. I'll do the prep for our traditional Christmas Eve dinner and make certain everything is ready for when the kids arrive Monday morning and the festivities lasting until midnight begin.

Eggnog and Swedish coffee bread
Gingerbread House creation
Ugly Sweater decorating contest (decorating done at the participant's leisure throughout the day)
FaceTime with youngest son in NYC
Swedish meatball construction
Someone making a sandwich -- and then everyone wanting one
A long walk
Tea and scones
Facetime with youngest son in NYC
Ugly sweater contest judged via text message by extended family throughout the country
Traditional Swedish Dinner
FaceTime with youngest son in NYC
Present sharing

My list for Christmas day is nil. Where I used to make another huge dinner,  I now sleep late, my children off with their other families or headed home. No structure to this day. Leftovers. Rest. The festivities complete. Until it's time to put Christmas away.

Last night my granddaughter undressed the Elf on the Shelf and herself, put the stuffed reindeer to bed in a box, and helped me create a railroad track. I wore a crowned Santa hat and she a rack of antlers.

Had to call her Uncle Jordan to chat.

She doesn't quite understand all this Christmas hoopla yet. I don't think she cares about the manger scene and the presents under the tree. Too many other distractions. Next year might bring more awareness. More of that anticipation in the air, the excitement. A better understanding of a guy in a red suit with a white beard that can fit down a chimney.

I look forward to that and next year her Uncle Jordan will bring his new baby, too. Two grandchildren. Possible pageants and recitals to attend in the future. A new cycle.

As to what I'll do today? Sitting here writing this post has given me time to look out the window. The sun shines on the lawn in places where it didn't when all the leaves were on the trees.  The house is quiet, and peaceful. The buttercream candle offers a pleasant scent, just like the cookies I most likely don't need to bake.

Sitting here I've decided that if some of those details don't get done, it's okay. Because watching the sun filtering on the lawn is more important. Watching and noticing is how I will collect myself after all this preparation. That in this collecting, I will acquire anticipation and gratitude for those who will gather around me on Christmas Eve day. All of us together -- FaceTime or real time -- sharing gifts of time together, laughter, and fun.

Yes, today I will look out the window. And gather.

Merry Christmas everybody. Have a good one.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Life Interruptus -- With Gratitude

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. 
Thornton Wilder

Thirteen days ago I woke up thinking I'd get myself organized. Do my daily reading and writing and then fill the empty coffers in my fridge. Make something healthy for dinner. Maybe even clean the toilets. 

Then I looked at the texts on my muted phone. People asking if our lakehouse was okay. Um. Okay, so I didn't wake up until 8:30. I went to bed way past midnight with no knowledge of anything significant developing out on the Llano River. I knew they were expecting more rain, but it had been raining for a while. 

The previous week there had been immense rains and some flooding, but other than an accumulation of passing timbers and brush that parked at our house for a while, we were fine. Besides, our lake in the river chain of six is a constant level lake. It doesn't flood. We have flood gates at the dam.

A video sent to us by our neighbors of a wild and unfamiliar scene in front of our houses interrupted my husband's morning interlude at the indoor golf driving range. He arrived home as I was collecting rain gear. We drove the hour and ten minutes to Lake LBJ, me watching the news reports on my phone. Pelting rain hindered the drive. Our neighbors texted they were leaving their house. When the news reports announced our little isle was under evacuation, I didn't know what to think other than we needed to turn around. We had hoped to move things to the upper level. Tie up the boat. Move the vehicles in the garage to higher ground. Or something like that. Not certain our thoughts were quite that organized. We had never prepared for an event like this.

The volume of water thrashing down the river surprised everyone. The Llano River rose over 39 feet. While driving in, we heard the Kingsland 2900 bridge collapsed. You may have seen video of this on national news. (You can Google it going down.) That bridge is six miles from us.

Upon arrival at our isle, we couldn't get across the causeway to access the house. From the looks of it, we didn't know if the road would be there when the water receded.

A rescue was in progress via boat retrieval of an elderly gentleman from the end of the isle.

Unable to access the house, we drove up to higher ground. The rain whipped around us. We could only wonder how our old cabin fared on the other side these houses pictured below. That was our island, our house, our neighbor's homes -- flooding. I felt so bad for it. Doesn't that sound crazy? I felt bad for it. Our homes under siege by waters that weren't supposed to flood it.

We couldn't do anything. We drove back home. Grateful we could do that.

Almost 13 years ago, we purchased our cabin. We are old Yankees (Minnesota and Michigan) and lakes and deciduous trees are ingrained in our hearts and minds. To finally own a place on a lake was a dream come true.

In Central Texas, the six Highland lakes are really the Colorado River (different than the big one out west) divided by a series of dams. The Llano River joins the Colorado River to begin our lake, LBJ, which is a constant level lake.  It's a pass through lake shuffling water down the line to the larger Lake Travis, and then into Austin and beyond. Lake LBJ doesn't flood because the dams and their floodgates keep it from doing so. Where those two above-mentioned rivers join, houses have flooded in the past. But our house is six miles down, with land left undeveloped in between for waters to flow if needed. Ahem.

First constructed on pedestals in 1964, our cabin purchase was a funky collection of odd doors to added rooms and a rickety old dock. We rebuilt the dock and made do with the rest. Paint and love.

Over 400 different people have spent the night in the past 12 years. Many of those have come several/many times. This does not count those who came only for the day, or by boat. Boys Scouts, baseball teams, fraternity boys, family, bunco bitches, book club, family, WriterGrrls, writing friends, old friends, new friends, our kid's friends, our friend's friends, our families friends.

Over 400 different people. And everybody got clean sheets and helped with food prep or cleanup. If they didn't, they didn't get invited back. Unless they were family. Ha!

"A Double-Wide on stilts," my husband always says. Looks like this when all the kids are home and we fly our respective flags. 

Or like this if there's a bunch of people on the dock.

So, back to thirteen days ago. When the rain subsided that evening and the flood waters were in retreat, our neighbors waded over the causeway and sent us this photo of our dock.

Henry, You swan, you! You survived! And our boat was there. We'd seen newsreels of boats going over the dams and figured ours was one of them. Photo credit to David Hawkes

Our neighbor's dock set the pick for us, would seem.

Photo credit to David Hawkes

The next morning, we bought 20 gallons of water at the grocery and drove to the lake. When we arrived, the first thing I saw was that pink flamingo on the bottom right of this photo. Wasn't mine, but there it was, just perched on that hammered Mexican sage. When I saw it, I took it as a sign. It would all be okay. I depended on it.

After we removed all those trash cans and got through the gate, we discovered why our driveway was all rutted -- the crushed granite re-distributed along the path and all over the yard by the flood's rush.

Did not tromp through that to look inside. Not right away. 

Didn't that have a cooler on that rack?

Interesting design.

More odd sights, like our badminton rackets lying in the yard as if abandoned mid-game. 

Uh, oh. Note the water line on my Volks. 

Okay, so my arrangement wasn't so nice. Is this one better?

Then these fine young men arrived. Two
LDS missionaries offering to help. We shared that we had lived in Salt Lake City and our oldest son born there. That we are probably the only people around who know why both their first names are Elder. 

They helped carry all this out. Most comfortable recliner chairs ever. 

They carried out the neighbor's stuff too.

The other side of us hauled out also.

In that mess was a neighbor's old boat, a jet ski, a fishing boat, a shed, a roof, two jet ski docks, Tom, Dick and Harry.

My oldest son's father-in-law and his friend arrived with a power washer  (ours disabled by water) and 

within many hours of hard work, both the bunk room and the TV/bedroom/ laundry room were shoveled out from under layers of mud.  Oldest son, Jacob, arrived to assist.

Silver lining? That carpet is gone. That bed rest against the fence? 300 lbs when wet.

 Nice assortment of semi-washed off stuff.

The Red Cross had dropped off cleaning supplies to friends down the road.  We visited at day's end to assess their situation. We were all okay. It was only stuff. 

Day Two. My daughter-in-law pulls her landscaping crews from their jobs and drives out to the lake with 8 guys. Overwhelming emotion.

Scraping the mud and cleaning the debris off the dock. Trash cans pulled from the lake. 

Trailers loaded and hauled off packed with our stuff, and the neighbors, to the dumpsters in town.

The flamingo is our leader. Chelsea rocks!
Day Three. Blessed with such assistance the day before, we headed out to help friends further up the Llano River. Uh... speechless. Did what we could to help while the rain poured and the temp was unseasonably cold.

Those lumps were docks. I think.

Once our friend's dock and yard, they now have a beach. 

Their house was high up on the hill. 

Their newly renovated downstairs, which held all their belongings. The upstairs  having been emptied for renovations in process up there. If we came across a family photo in our sorting of what didn't float down river, we handled it with great care.

Day 4. Our friends from home arrive. The cleaning and sanitizing crew.

Lisa, Debbie, Terrianne, Kris, Chelsea

Miss Maisy. Two-year-old granddaughter not interested in being left out.
A local church sent loads of people to help those who didn't have other helpers. They took out loads of ruined stuff and helped break down drywall. Down the street, the couple featured in the middle of this photo had boat, dock and yard damage, but no water in their home. They make massive trays of lasagna, salad, cookies and sweet tea. Went up and down the streets inviting everyone working to come eat. Sustenance at the right moment. Incredible gift.

Back at the house, the destruction of paneling and drywall and insulation continued. I don't have more photos of this crew as I was otherwise engaged. Hard workers. Mark, Mark, Bob, Bob, Tim, Wayne, oldest son Jacob.

Almost done.

Old shower and sink gone.
And then this. I had found this on the floor on the first day and brought it upstairs. I set it outside as it was full of muddy water and ruined. As many know, my folks, now both gone, lived in Green Bay, Wisconsin for years and my boys spent many a summer day at the Packer training camp where the players mixed with the kids. My mom and dad would send newspaper clippings and magazines to youngest son and huge fan, Ian.

I didn't cry at anything else going on, but when I saw this, I cried. Just one of those things.
I sent this photo to Ian in NYC. Sad. I shared that text with two friends, Debbie and Kris, and told them I just couldn't be the one to throw it away. Debbie, who is also my daughter-in-law's mom, said she'd do it. Off she went. The box was gone when I went upstairs.

Meanwhile, we tried to unclog all the debris hunkered down under the dock. We pulled lawn up chairs and fire pits. Picture frames and trellises. Mike, the neighbor's son, got in our remaining kayak to get it flowing away from the docks.

The neighbors grandkids, all out for a work day, made great fun of the work. 
End of day. Time for a beer, wine and snacks for the exhausted workers.

That night. A hint of a sunset. Hope.
Day 5. Middle son, Jordan, arrives after his work week. He goes with his dad to help his older brother prop up his father-in-law's dock which has collapsed on his boat. He returns to our place to rip up the floor tiles, scrape off the glue, and tidies the stripped downstairs. Prepares it for fans and Clorox.

A clean mess.
The days go by.

Where, oh, where is our neighbor's boat. Left when the water receded.
A walk around the hood. 

Our work continued. Everyday, our Advil-powered bodies kept going. Hauling trash. Cleaning this. Cleaning that. Pushing logs on their way. Sweeping. Power washing. Went home for a day to do laundry. Three of my friends had taken wet linens and towels home to wash (huge help to keep me out of a laundromat), but there was still so much.

A Boil Water notice was in effect for Austin so we went out to dinner that night for oldest son's birthday in Cedar Park. After dinner, we transferred from Debbie's car to mine the massive laundry she had done for us. And then she handed me this. As you may recall from above, she said she'd take care of that box of Packer memorabilia. That she did. I couldn't speak. I hid behind this framed wonder from that sodden box, and cried.

That had to make you cry, too. 

My husband and I will recover from our aching bodies and tiredness. More important we are humbled and overwhelmed with gratitude.

No one got hurt.
Stuff is just stuff.
The downstairs might smell better -- some day when we fix it up. 
We had power and water upstairs throughout the process. 
Neighbors came together and shared tools and muscles and laughs and tears and tiredness and love with hopes for the better lake days to come.
New friends were made. 
Old friends cherished even more.

Endings bring new journeys.

There is much more I could put into this post, but I can't pull it all together at the moment. A tad tired. We were privileged by the continuous giving from strangers, family, friends. If we hadn't received that help, we'd still be deep in mud.. That has touched us deeply. I said at one point, somewhere, that I don't think I've ever been as kind as so many have been to us.

Saturday, at 3:30 in the afternoon, I sat on the end of the dock. Boats were going by like this, in tow,  

rather than upside down. The lake, still full of debris, had calmed.
We'd put everything back together at our house as best we could. All that was left to do was wait for the downstairs to dry out. Could be a while. 

My husband said, "Time to go."

We left the flamingo and Henry, the one-winged swan, to keep watch.
Would seem they make a pretty good team.


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