Oh Christmas Tree. How Lovely!

Oh Christmas Tree. How Lovely!

Some Christmas tree ornaments do more than glow, they represent a gift of love given a long time ago. —Tom Baker

This year our tree is a magnificent 12-foot, 6-inch Douglas Fir with near perfect shape. Fifteen-foot ceilings in our living room indulge my yen for a ginormous specimen. Each year, I tease my beloved that this will be the year of the 13-footer. Each year, he replies his ladder only allows him to top our tree with our oversized cardinal at 12-ish feet. He strings hundreds of colored lights and yards of silver beads, (which I rearrange) to create the glittering backdrop to our beauties.

We have hundreds of ornaments carefully collected over the past 40 years. Our tradition begun as newlyweds is to choose them as gifts for each other that reflect our passions, hobbies and spirit. T gives me angels—delicate and dainty, sturdy ones that require a strong  branch, ethereal fairies, assorted dolls and cardinals. I give him Red Sox and PMC ornaments, VW Beetles, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Penguins, a skier and Nightmare Before Christmas characters, even the tacky leg lamp from A Christmas Story. The Boys added construction paper creations in the early years.

My Oz ornament collection now numbers 50. Some are gifts from T and other family members, others I collected. Most are from the 1939 movie well known as my favorite, and personal lodestar. Glinda and the Lion, my favorite characters,  appear in multiple iterations. There are nine Dorothy’s. Most have sound and or motion. The Boys loved to be the first to turn on our tree as dueling ornaments plugged into light strings chanted, “Cabby Cabby,” and “I am Oz, the great and powerful.” One year I discovered they also have play buttons. I press each one, for the pleasure and remembrance now that The Boys are grown and in homes of their own, and because of COVID, cannot come home for Christmas this year.

My own cross stitch ornaments from my design company, Victoria’s Needle, are stories of my family. The Christmas Angel is the tale of Christmas morning in New Hampshire 1975 for a family holiday when we were caught in a snowstorm en route to my brother’s house and ran out of gas. My mom and I walked to the nearby phone booth to call my sister to come get us. As we stuffed into the booth, Mom realized she had no change. She prayed to Mary for help, pressed the cradle and out popped a dime! THAT was a Christmas miracle for certain.

Santa’s Reindeer was created to commemorate the Christmas when my nephew Joshua was returning from the Navy for the holiday. My brother Paul and wife Dorinda, her sister Mickey, Adam, Alex and I dressed as Santa’s entourage to greet him at the Syracuse airport in full costume — Paul as Santa, sister Elves Jingle and Jangle, twin reindeer and me in an oversized, rented reindeer suit. The plane was delayed so we entertained the disembarking passengers and their families as we waited. When Josh finally came down the walkway, he took one look at us and hurried past while we sang Here Come’s Santa Claus. He was mortified; we were gleeful.

The Gingerbread Star is tribute to my Mom Joyce Mallette, The Cookie Maker. Each Christmas, she’d baked the most beautiful trays of edible delights, shipping them off for those she couldn’t visit in person. She entered heaven in 1996 and I continue her tradition now. It is my most holy communion with the woman who inspired joy and love for family.

 Santa is homage to my Dad Henry Mallette. I recently rediscovered  the story I wrote for the 10th Anniversary Just Cross Stitch Collection which explained why it was my favorite submission. It is a celebration of that jolly old elf who always embodied Santa’s spirit. He believed in giving without receiving, caring deeply for others, and most of all, living in joy. 

The oldest surviving ornament on our tree came from my childhood home, the dimestore purple ball with spray snow poinsettias whose luster has mellowed over six decades. My absolute favorite was a brushed gold ball encircled in glitter that went up first on our Syracuse tree. Alex accidentally broke it one year and I had to walk from the room to avoid saying anything hurtful. He was devastated as he knew the story of how my parents chose me to hang this as the first ornament on our family tree each year. Sweet boy, he carefully collected the shards and bottled them in a small jar that now sits in my home office as a reminder of resurrection and forgiveness.

Most precious are the ornaments crafted by family and friends. We have paper glitter dreidels from Adam and Alex’s pre-school days. Aunt Aurora’s Holly Hobby’s, assorted felt stars, mittens and bells, and corduroy trees always graced the bottom of our Miles Ave. tree should the cats wreak mischief. Aunt Annie’s plastic cross stitch snowflakes mingle with hardanger gifts from the Stitching Bitches, humble to expert examples of their skills. Especially dear to me are the ones my Mom made—beaded beauties, lace angels and some odd little homespun angels endearing in their homeliness. These makers are now angels themselves, so hanging them on our tree is a prayer of thanks to them for their enduring gifts of love.

Here’s the thing about our collection. These aren’t random items bought as last minute gifts to check off a list. From the humble to the spectacular, there was considerable thought and time, and in some cases, loving handcrafting. Store-bought were chosen with the greatest of care given our likes and loves. As I opened the boxes and laid them out, it was a tenderhearted connection to joyful memories and loved ones. Especially dear are images of our tiny twin sons creating their idea of beauty as they loaded branches within reach.

This is the true gift of Christmas.

Now it’s time to part with some of our collection, sending off select pieces to Adam and Alex for their own trees. Each year I will gift more, offering touchstones to our shared past to bring them Christmas joy,  as they add to their own collections making new memories.

In The Garden

In The Garden

Just remember, in the winter, far beneath the bitter snows, lies a seed that with the sun’s love, in the spring, becomes the rose.   —Bette Midler

was interviewing my colleague Rose for a newsletter story about her newly found passion for gardening. It was a joy to listen to the lilt in her voice as she described learning about the variety of flowers and shrubs available, how much sunlight and water they need to thrive. We agree that our gardens are the perfect spot to decompress from our current climate. A beautiful alternative to news that rocks our souls daily.

“The garden is an oasis that calms the chaos,” I reply to her description of happiness her new garden brings.

This got me thinking about my gardens. How they are a labor of love that took many years to cultivate. Trial and error when I misjudged the light and soil conditions. How some of the perennials took in spite of my ignorance. Others withered away. Roses present a particular challenge to me. I’ve killed my fair share of hybrid tea roses. You must carefully tend them, fertilizing and cutting back, ensuring not too much water lest the leaves turn yellow and eventually fall, leaving a long thorny stem and anemic, stilted blooms. I finally learned roses I grow best are the knockout variety—they like the south and north corners of the front of my house. These showy grand dames require less tending, bringing heady fragrance and energy in late spring. I recently planted a new deep pink one in the hole vacated by last year’s failed rhubarb experiment. So far, she’s happy.

Gardens require pruning, feeding and weeding. Funny thing about weeds, some appear with handsome flowers so are welcome among the more regal lilies, brown eyed Susan’s and cone flowers. Some have to go, because they zap too much energy of the floribunda. It’s a delicate balance.

There are seasons to gardens. That’s a well know fact. Plant too early and the frost will destroy your tender plants. Skip fertilizing and mulching, and you’ll get flowers that struggle to bloom. Oh, they will survive the first year.  Each year thereafter, they are smaller and less healthy, until they finally give up the ghost. If you respect their simple needs for light, food and water, however, they plant their roots deep, giving back with their powerful charm. Then come fall, its time to put them to bed for a long sleep while the roots and bulbs go dormant. What a blessing of renewal spring brings when they awake and send up tender shoots. The cycle resumes.

It’s also a delight to discover surprises—stray seeds brought as gifts from the birds and squirrels that nestle in a small unclaimed patch of earth. In my Syracuse garden one year, giant sunflowers appeared, growing six feet high with enormous mop heads that blossomed fully. After the flowers faded, they gave back to their winged friends as small wrens perched on the bent necks plucking the ripe seeds. Working together, they made magic real.

I taught my boys well about the care and feeding of a garden in their teen years in Syracuse. I had them water the extensive beds most summer early evenings and mornings. There was often griping and protestations. But here’s my little secret they didn’t know then. It was deliberate because one cannot help but ruminate on life with optimism when faced with such beauty while hands are occupied carefully watering the stems, not the blooms. This insistence flummoxed them because it would have made the chore pass quickly. Enforced solitude is good for the soul.

Seems the lessons took because now they both call me sharing their delights as their buds bloom. My sons have become gardeners. The country mouse and the city mouse.

Although technically the Adams’ home isn’t really in the country, but a charming Tudor in a smallish Michigan city. They are reclaiming their yard plant-by-plant. T and I helped them overhaul the bones of their yard when we visited last September. Now they are digging and shaping, planting bulbs, shrubs and perennials while filling their space with Adam’s considerable collection of Pier 1 gewgaws and lanterns.

Alex lives in Baltimore City with his beloved Will in a historic row home and they are planting in window boxes, pots on the deck and perennials in the small patch of soil beyond the boards. Their backyard is their haven filled with bird song, greenery and new plants. Alex decorates with his unique blend of bones, ephemera and sparkle. He teaches Zoom yoga from the deck, sharing his little slice of heaven with his students.

Alex & Will’s garden

Adams’ Garden

My sons have learned how calming it is to dig, plant and deadhead. It’s hard to stay angry or sad when you work amidst such miracles you’ve nurtured. When you’re really vexed, there’s nothing like a good weed pulling spell to dissipate the mood. If ever there was such a time we need a break from the trials in our world, it surely is now. 

This is what we know. Gardens offer solace and pleasure, thoughtful pause. Like Rose says, “They make me happy.” Indeed. Time to go give the girls a drink and see who’s come out to shine beauty, peace and joy in the neighborhood today.

Of Wrinkles and Spots

Of Wrinkles and Spots

I have a few wrinkles and brown spots—we greet each other cordially in the mirror every morning. But does that mean I shouldn’t be allowed to feel contemporary, confident and sexy?      —Lois Joy Johnson*

Photo courtesy of Tony ❤️ 2020

No, I’m not talking about my blouses. You know, the drill when you dab a Shout© pen on the balsamic vinegar spill from your lunch with gal pals or take a scorching iron to the white cotton Chico’s blouse.

I’m talking my glorious face of 62 years. Suitably wrinkled and showing those pesky brown spots that arose because of my aversion to sunscreen in my 20’s.

Like many women of a certain age, my face shows the roadmap of my life. Laugh lines crinkle the corners of my eyes, there are permanent vertical indents in my forehead. Then my inheritance from my mother Joyce, fluffy jowls when my weight yoyo’s.

I happened upon the article, The Invisible Woman by Lois when sitting at my breakfast table on an ordinary Thursday morning. It resonated with me because I too am a woman in my 60s. The difference between us is that I don’t pay as much attention to the world of cosmetics as armor against ageism. I have my basic regimen of Clinique’s 3 step cleansing, pots of moisturizers and light makeup with SPF 20. So maybe I do have a few thousand dollars invested in the brand I’ve used for 35+ years. But (here comes the rationalization…wait for it) I do think the constant cleansing and good choices have helped me keep a lovely complexion. In spite of “clinically proven’ claims to lift sagging skin, reduce the appearance of wrinkles and make my skin brighter,” I believe all that promise comes to fruition from self love.

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Home in the time of COVID.

Home in the time of COVID.

You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.— Maya Angelou

Miles and Mommy “at work.”

Enforced stay-at-home because of the corona virus is not how I imagined it would be. Don’t get me wrong. I am well-suited to be a homebody because I love my house and have worked from a home office off and on throughout my professional career. So when the edict began on 3/16 for remote work, I was excited. I was ready. T was also going to be working from home. We had a plan—me upstairs in my cheery bright space. He in the 70s basement man cave. Which suits his video editing work, thus requiring a bit less light.

I am technologically prepared with my work laptop, monitors, iPhone and headsets. I’ve had fun ramping up my Skype and Microsoft Teams skills which are the vital lifelines we use to stay connected. FaceTime for we Apple folk is also a saving grace. Zoom, hailed as the holy grail of group meetups, has been banned by our company IT Gods. I support this wholeheartedly, toeing the professional line. Personal use, that’s another story…

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Landslide Wedding

Landslide Wedding

Time makes us bolder, children get older. I’m getting older too.”—Stevie Nicks

We recently spent a glorious weekend with our sons attending the wedding of their childhood friend Katherine in beautiful Ithaca, NY. Our boys first met Katherine in middle school and have remained fast friends all these years. She considers us her second parents, I consider her the daughter of my heart (DOMH). Katherine aka Kitty and Sister, joins the ranks of Bri and Anna as DOMH. God blessed us with boys, and fate gifted us the girls. Adam H completes our family circle as Adam’s bethrohed.

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Cut the roses, use the china.

Cut the roses, use the china.

PRIDE On Parade

PRIDE On Parade

“The beauty of standing up for your rights is others see you standing and stand up as well.” — Cassandra Duffy

Mark and I marched in our first Pride [1] Parade this month 15 years after our twin sons came out. Why so long you might think?

In a word, uncomfortable.

Us with figuring out the new rules of our family when the boys shared their truth. Them figuring out how to live in their truth in the already tumultuous world of being teenagers. And some family members who weren’t comfortable with our family’s reality clashing with their beliefs and religion.

As Mark and I talked about why we waited so long to walk with like-minded, loving people at Pride, we speculated that the boys were uncomfortable with us participating as we became comfortable with their new community. Our sons asked us not to walk during their early years as this was their thing. Dating is awkward enough as a teen much less when society doesn’t accept who you are. As Alex said, “Pride is the easiest time for gay kids to date and how young people start to find their first relationships.”

I remember the boys coming home after their first Pride parade and events totally pumped and empowered from the acceptance and support they experienced en masse. They whitewashed some of the hate mongers’ slurs and epithets as they know how incensed I become at ignorance and cruelty. Adam and Alex’s way of dealing with these small-minded bigots was to blow glitter kisses to them as they danced merrily down the macadam. Adam usually takes a more peaceful approach—unless someone harasses his Brudder. Hell hath no fury like his twin scorned. Read the rest of this entry

This Old Table

This Old Table

“Use it up, wear it out, make do.”—New England proverb

I’m sitting as usual enjoying my second cup of coffee as I began thinking about our dining room table. It’s not elegant or trendy. The top is scratched and the legs could use some serious refinishing. Calvin Kitty joins me in the mornings waiting for his taste of my scrambled eggs. He sits politely at the corner looking out at our backyard, chittering as the birds flit among the trees. I’ve never been one of those people who minds a cat sharing her table top has long as he waits until I’ve offered a dish for his tasting.

I ponder all that has happened around our old table. We’ve had it for 28 years. It was meant to be a short term solution when we were a very young family. Mark loves to tell the story of how we acquired it. Lechmere had just opened a store in the mall so we went to purchase a small dining set. We opened an account charging the set to get the 10% discount. As it turned out, Lechmere never charged us for it— though, honest as we were, Mark called them three times to tell them of their mistake. Apparently the Universe gifted us this set as they never followed up.

Raising twins, assorted business start-ups, part-time jobs interspersed with staying home full time to raise our sons meant less cash in the coffers. So our temporary set became a permanent fixture. On periodic moments of flush cash, I would lust after Stickley mission dining tables and chairs. Then circumstances would evaporate our windfalls and I’d polish her up, clean the dried bits of toddler meals and move on.  Read the rest of this entry

The Heart Knows

The Heart Knows

“The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of…we know the truth not only by the reason, but by the heart.”—Blaise Pascal

As I walked Miles one cold Sunday afternoon recently at our favorite park, I was pondering my career and life. This is nothing new as the hamster wheel of what to do next spins constantly in my brain. I was feeling chipper and relaxed as I meandered with my big black dog. The sun popped out which is always so welcome in winter. The timing was cosmic, however.

I paused as we crossed the bridge to the main entrance to admire the view when I spied the heart-shaped rock in the middle of the stream. I’d made this trip dozens of times, but never before had I seen this gem peaceful amid the flowing waters. As I studied the scene, I noticed mini rapids flowing toward the heart positioned smack in the middle of the stream. Then I saw that the water surrounding the rock and beyond was calm, serene. The long bend of the stream was an elegant and subtle twist with the beauty found only in winter grays and browns of slumbering trees and tall grasses.

It occurred to me that this scene is a metaphor for my own journey. I’ve come through a rocky period in the D’Ag family in 2018. Death, job transitions, legal battles, bodily conditions out of control. It wasn’t all rough water—there were weddings and family celebrations aplenty. Freedom to explore my interior landscape and where I want to go next in the land of earning money, and just plain joy in the journey time.

What seemed suddenly revealed to me was the wisdom nature’s heart talisman offered. I often repeated to my sons they will never go wrong if they let their heart lead them to their happiness. Once you accept that simple, inescapable fact, you hit smooth waters. There is adventure waiting if you follow your heart as it points the way to your greatest path of joy.

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“Coda: a concluding segment of a piece of music, a dance, or a statement. It’s usually short and adds a final embellishment beyond a natural ending point.”—Vocabulary.com

Here I am, on the precipice once again.
Corporate job—over.
Writing life—ready to resume.

I’ve declared to many that personal writing is what I want to do. That this was to be my new path when we started our new life in Baltimore five years ago. I’ve journaled much about this in the past few years. I traveled to San Francisco to learn about publishing. I began a new book, a memoir on raising gay twin sons.

Then along the way, I lost my writing mojo. The defining moment for this was having to move from the rental house to a permanent house in Towson. It derailed my memoir writing as I had to spend the majority of my time looking for a new home for us in a truly short period of time—60 days. Then, the buying, moving and settling in time. The tragic loss of our beloved black lab Fenway that following spring knocked me off my pins for months.

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