Spring Forward, Look Back

Spring is a time of hope, when promises unfold and the world is fresh and green. It’s also the time when I reflect on life-changing milestones and special memories.

Every April, I celebrate the evening that I reluctantly attended a barn dance outside Lawrence, Kansas and met my future husband. I also remember the time, four years later (to the day) when he defended his thesis and we prepared for our move to the Netherlands (the next day!). An overwhelming cascade of memories mark the flight to Holland, arriving in that unfamiliar village that would become home, and meeting a friend who would instantly become family. I also think of young daughters searching excitedly for brightly colored Easter eggs hidden among the daffodils or scattered throughout the house.

It was quiet this year, and a college visit took the place of the traditional Easter egg hunt.

My friend sent photos of her home – a beautiful farm in Holland, ready for friends and family sharing a festive holiday brunch.

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Festive Weekend: Lunar New Year and Mardi Gras!

Lunar New Year

You may remember my pitiful post last month about my non-existent social life.  I’m happy to say that with some initiative and a positive attitude, life has improved and this weekend I enjoyed two celebrations in one day!

Saturday started with the Lunar New Year at the Chinese Community Center, an annual celebration featuring dance, music, food and cultural traditions from the many Asian communities in Houston.  This year is the Year of the Snake, and in addition to the familiar booths and activities we sampled tea and admired the bikes that the Chinese Motorcycle Club had on display.

Lunar New YearLater I spent a wonderful Mardi Gras evening eating crawfish etouffee and spending quality “girl time” with my fun-loving friend and two new friends.  It was great to listen to music, tell stories, laugh hysterically and just have fun.

Mardi Gras Festivities

In another city on another continent, my daughter donned costume and mask and she and friends joined crowds in the streets for Carnival festivities.  Today I saw the photos (love Facebook and digital photography) and could imagine the excitement she felt as she took part in this celebration for the first time.

New Year, new moon and spring is in the air.  Join the celebration!

I’m Dreaming of a Skype Christmas

I'm Listening

I’m Listening

When I was growing up, my dad’s family lived in a small town where relatives lived within a couple of square miles of each other.  Mother lived next door to daughter, separated by an alleyway.  Aunt lived next to nephew and down the street from her sister.  The family whose house was just beyond the tiny bridge that defined the city limit was considered “out of town.”

Those days are gone.  Or, should I say, they never existed in a real way for the family beyond that small, geographically limited cluster.  Now, family members are dispersed across the U.S., North Africa and Europe and tiny factions of our extended clan will be dining together.  But we will take a few moments to reach out and Skype someone this holiday.  The image may be less than optimal and the connection and quality may waver.  The computer may even crash, as it does on occasion.  But thank goodness for Skype, Google Hangout or whatever the means to see and hear our loved ones far away.

Fear of Festivals

I have a confession to make.  I’m not very good at holidays.  Taken to extreme, fear of holidays even has an official name:  Heortophobia.  Not wanting to be bound by obligation disguised as tradition, I’ve veered a little too adamantly to the other extreme of unpredictability.  Spontaneity seemed better, somehow.  Brighter and freer.  My kids asked, “Can’t we just have turkey dinner like everyone else?” when I proposed some new and exotic menu.  I thought I was rescuing them from the horrors of green bean casserole (sorry, Mom – I confess that it was never a favorite).

Recently, a comment from a new Australian acquaintance made me think.  He noted that in workshops that he leads, he would ask participants to raise their hands if they were indigenous.  Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders would raise their hands confidently, while white people would sit still.  “Everyone is indigenous to some place, but white people seem to have forgotten their past.”  He continued to talk about the importance of names, family and clan/kin/tribe, connection to your origins and knowing your traditions.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since.  It’s probably appropriate this time of year.

Festivals

Diwali – Festival of Light

Now I read with curiosity and slight longing when I discover posts about others’ joyous traditions.  For example, I just happened upon this wonderful post about Diwali on Kiran’s Cooking Club site.  Diwali is also known as the “Festival of Light” and it is India’s most important annual holiday.  The name Diwali refers to the clay lamps that people light outside their homes, symbolizing inner light that protects us from spiritual darkness.  Originally a harvest festival, Diwali is a time when Indian people (regardless of faith) seek the blessing of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.  The holiday is celebrated with family gatherings, lamps, lights and fireworks and traditional sweets.

“Zie ginds komt de stomboot…”

When we lived in Holland, we enjoyed the arrival of Sinterklaas (otherwise known as Saint Nicholas) with his crew of Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes – Moorish helpers) by steamboat the third week of November.  The Sint rides his trusty white horse and “Petes” engage in all sorts of mischief.  Children leave shoes out each evening, and if they are lucky they will find small presents in the morning.  December 5th, the Eve of Sinterklaas, is celebrated with gifts, rhymes and sweets.  Typical treats include pepernootjes (small spice cookies), speculaas (more spice cookies!), large chocolate letters for the first letter of the child’s name, marzipan figures and chocolate coins.

Other harvest festivals and fall and winter celebrations draw me in with their family time, sense of belonging, music and fun.  We spent 8 of the last 20 years living in The Netherlands and London, far from home and family holidays.  This year, we’re divided.  Extended family is far away as always and two daughters are studying abroad, leaving a small group of three to celebrate a quiet holiday.

What will we do?

Will we celebrate my husband’s Spanish background with a feast of tapas and traditional dishes?  Should  we explore my English/Scottish/Irish heritage and perhaps rediscover the rituals of the Winter Solstice?

Or shall we stick to tradition and try something completely new?