I understand Christmas letters are considered a bit tacky in some circles – after all, they have a somewhat deserved reputation for turning into obnoxious brag-fests – but I personally love getting them. With family and friends spread out all over (Pete and I have relatives in at least a dozen different states and three different countries), Christmas letters, like Facebook, help me keep up with everyone. So Pete and I have been sending out our own annual Christmas letters for more than 30 years now. Hopefully we don’t brag too obnoxiously – except for our occasional travel adventures.
Actually, our travel in 2019 mostly seemed to consist of trips to the emergency room. In February I landed in intensive care for massive internal bleeding caused by the blood-thinning medication I was taking. This was followed in the spring and summer by several trips to the emergency room for radiating chest pain, which the doctors now believe was caused by gallbladder attacks. Said gallbladder came out in September and I finally seem to be healing. (Knock wood!)
As if that wasn’t enough, both our kitties developed health issues this year. But so far, the special diets and medication are working and our little bandits seem to be doing well. Meanwhile, they continue to be their sweet, lovable, adorable, ornery, mischievous selves.
Which is a good thing, because this has been a sad year.
My mother passed away in September after spending several months in home hospice care and waging a valiant 60-year battle with Type 1 diabetes. It was a humbling experience to hear all the stories about her vibrant personality, hospitality and generosity from the literally hundreds of people who showed up for her visitation and funeral. She had a wide range of people who dearly loved her. It was nice to see lots of cousins we hadn’t seen in a while, even if the occasion was a sad one.
An absolutely phenomenal team of caregivers shepherded her through her final months and I will be forever grateful to Sharon, Stacy, Jessica, Debbie and Mary for their constant loving attentiveness that went way beyond the call of duty. Not to mention my sister Cindy, who took on the monumental task of supervising the support team. Here are several of these awesome ladies joining Mom and my sister for an adult slumber party complete with pink squirrels (Mom’s favorite drink) last summer.
Mom was a fun-loving, die-hard Cubs fan, so it came as no surprise when she requested that family and friends wear Cubs shirts to her visitation and funeral/celebration of life. Here are Pete and I in our his-and-hers matching shirts, which we bought just for her. The Cubs must have been playing for her, since they won 14-1 the day we said good-bye.
We also lost a dear friend. John Knoepfle was a talented poet and storyteller who published more than two dozen books. At 96, he was still at it, working on yet another book when he wasn’t playing his harmonica. He was a terrific mentor to me in my younger years and Pete and I had the honor of helping him edit and publish the chinkapin oak, one of his earlier books. And while he lived a long, amazingly full life, we’re still going to miss him!
Fortunately, 2019 did bring more than sad news and hospital trips. There were also weddings. LOTS of weddings! Congratulations to Angie and Will, Ellie and Adam, Payton and Vero, Jacob and Sid, Anna and Eddie. Health issues prevented us from attending most of the weddings, but hopefully these newlyweds will all have marriages as wonderful and Pete’s and mine. (Have I ever said I have a fabulous husband??)
While we didn’t travel much, we did manage to see some of Pete’s cousins. We had the pleasure of visiting twice with John and Anne, who live in western North Carolina, while they were passing through the Midwest to attend a couple of the above-mentioned weddings. And we met in St. Louis with Pete’s cousin Chrissie and her husband Chris, who were in town for a WordPress meetup. Chrissie’s work as a “happiness engineer,” doing customer support for WordPress, takes her all over the country, and she’s been SO helpful to us with our blogs.
Pete and I continue to take spiritual direction with a charming – and very patient – Dominican sister. Spiritual direction doesn’t replace church. Rather, it’s a one-to-one relationship in which one person helps another grow in a personal relationship with God and sense the presence of God in everyday life. It’s been a very interesting experience for both of us, and we both blog about it. While posting articles and photos to my blog “Seriously Seeking Answers,” I’ve met some fascinating fellow bloggers who are pursuing similar journeys. Pete’s working title for his blog is “Ordinary Time” [link HERE]. As the address – ordinaryzenlutheran.com – implies, it’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
Pete’s historical research on Swedish immigration continues to sit on the back burner but he’s vowed to get back to it in the coming year, and I’ve promised to start in earnest writing the book I’ve been threatening to write for ages. That is, if we can tear ourselves away from our computer screens and stop arguing politics with total strangers on social media. And if we political junkies can’t stay away from the 2020 election season completely – who are we kidding?? – we at least plan to do something constructive like volunteering for a local candidate’s campaign.
Music continues to be an important part of our lives. We’re active in our church, where we sing in the traditional choir. We also play dulcimers (mountain dulcimer for Pete and hammered dulcimer for me) with a group of musicians that gathers for jam sessions at a senior high-rise a few blocks from our house. There’s actually a bit of a “fan club” of residents who pull up chairs and listen to us play in the lobby, so it feels like we’re actually doing some social good while having a good time.
I have to admit that getting into the holiday spirit was a bit of a challenge, given the kind of year we’ve had, so that’s why I broke my usual rule of not even thinking about Christmas until after Thanksgiving and started decorating early. This seems to be working. And my Christmas cactus is faithfully blooming right on schedule.
We’re getting to an age where our idea of a wild New Year’s Eve celebration consists of supper at our favorite Indian restaurant around 6 p.m. followed by bedtime at 10. But we’ve started a new tradition in recent years of inviting friends to our house on New Year’s Day for hoppin’ john (rice and black-eyed peas), greens and lots of music. The hoppin’ john and greens are said to bring good luck and making music just seems to be a great way to start off the New Year right.
Here’s hoping you all have a happy and healthy New Year full of grace and peace!