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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

peppermint bark and merriment

peppermint barkHi, my  name is Britton, and I L♥VE food. Well, I love good food. I’m not interested in crappy calories; only the best! And over the holidays? I’m in (as my Aunt Bonnie would say) hog heaven! Although they’d have to be VERRRY spoiled hogs…

Right now, it’s peppermint bark time. I adore peppermint bark! I mean, chocolate & peppermint? Creamy & crunchy together? One bite & I’m 9 years old again, at Aunt Velma’s, sneaking to the footed crystal candy dish…

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And I love ham, although I don’t eat it any more. No pigs, remember? But I still love the smell — that salty/sweet tang of good ham. And eggnog, and ambrosia, and pie, and roast and Yorkshire pudding and hot chocolate with marshmallows and all the treats we fête ourselves with. After all, if it’s Chanukah or Kwanza/ Solstice, Harvest, or December 25th, it deserves our very best food, dress, conversation… And merriment.

Because whatever your reason for this season is, if it doesn’t make you happy, it’s not much of a celebration. Celebrate: from the  Latin celebrare, which one article says means ‘to assemble to honour.’ Another says it means ‘to honour a day or occasion by festivities.’ Either will do, and as the Christian Science Monitor points out, we do gather together (a much more informal word for ‘assembling’!). And that gathering should be FESTIVE (read: fun), folks.

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~ from Visual Thesaurus

~ from Visual Thesaurus

Instead, we worry about the presents. Fret over the food. Stress over the entire celebration. And miss whatever our point is: birth, rebirth, Solstice, culture, family… As the Dalai Lama says, faith should bring us happiness. As should its celebrations. Whether you are Christian, Buddhist, agnostic, or Muslim, Jew, atheist or something else, the gathering of friends & family to celebrate is beyond mere ‘observance.’ You can observe something from a distance. Celebration requires full-out engagement. (Which is NOT the same thing as worry!).

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So as you ready for the year’s end, grab some peppermint bark. It’s vegan! Well, at least the kind I buy is: dark chocolate doesn’t have any milk in it :). Make some hot tea, a cappuccino, or grab a glass of wine…whatever. Just take time to sit down, relax, and treat yourself with loving kindness. Breathe. And let your faith bring you joy in our upcoming celebrations.

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permission

permission passIn a FB thread discussing art, anarchy, and writing, a friend & colleague reminded me that many people he works with want to know ‘the rules.’ They won’t write — he’s a teacher of teachers — unless they have a template. Not a model, mind you (that’s restrictive enough!), but a real template. Where you just plug things in.

Which led me to thinking about creativity, and so much of life in general (after all, life IS creative).

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So often, what we need from others isn’t approval. It’s permission.

We need to know that our differences are not ‘tolerated,’ but are accepted. Loved. Not ‘in spite of.’ Just loved. For ourselves. And our differences make us who we are.

Apropos of that FaceBook post, on another thread we’ve been discussing books that helped form us. Most of us thought only to college, w/ a few exceptions (I did put Winnie the Pooh). So a  friend of a friend added, very hesitantly (note that this woman has a doctorate), that she was going to post her list, but it was mostly children’s books, and she felt intimidated by the highbrow postings of others.

Her moment of vulnerability inspired a wonderful THIRD thread, on my page, about children’s books we all love. But very few of us had posted children’s books prior to my asking, straight out, what children’s books helped shape you? We needed permission (actually, I just needed reminding! :))

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How often do we require permission to be ourselves? Like the woman who didn’t post her list, but her nudge reminded me of so many dear childhood books. And subsequently, my list triggered a totally engaging conversation among friends & colleagues.

Too often, we want templates, so we don’t ‘screw up.’ Just fill-in-the-blanks. No risk. No creativity. No self on the line.

So today, my gift to you: permission. To be your own self, however you define that.

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So, what colour is Santa? Or Jesus, for that matter? And why the HECK should this be on the news??

black santaI tend to go off, as we all know. And a newscaster from Fox News (I won’t name her, but you can find the article here; she doesn’t deserve more publicity) just lit my fuse.

Santa, she says, is white. Period. This mythical figure — drawn totally idiosyncratically in the heart of every child in America — is white. No discussion. And just FYI, so is Jesus. WHAT???

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Digression.

When my elder son was 4 or 5, he was in a preschool where making those cotton-ball bearded Santas was the holiday craft. He brought his home, proudly fluffy, brightly lacquered for durability. That Santa was BLACK, folks. As black as a new Sharpie magic marker. Face shining w/ a HUGE smile beneath that white white beard.

I said nothing, glad that my son was happy with his Santa. We didn’t care what colour an imaginary figure was, anyway. Or anyone else, for that matter.

Fast forward about 4 years. Along comes son 2, in the same preschool. Christmas rolls around, and Linda (the preschool owner) trots out the cotton-bearded Santa craft. Son #2 ALSO has a black Santa, just as vividly shiny underneath his soft beard, and just as brightly black.

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Call from pre-school Linda: Britt, is there something you’re not telling me?  Is this a family legend, or something? One son? But now two?

Russian icon depicting St Nicholas with scenes from his life. Late 1400s or early 1500s. National Museum, Stockholm.

Russian icon depicting St Nicholas with scenes from his life. Late 1400s or early 1500s. National Museum, Stockholm.

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I don’t remember asking my son — in fact, I don’t think I did, because I worried even then that it would make him think Santa couldn’t be black. And Santa can be ANYTHING.

A few years later (after Santa was no longer ‘real,’)I did ask Noah — son #2 — why Santa was black. Because Dad’s black, he said. (Note: his father isn’t black; he’s very brown in the summer — or the Saudi Arabian sun, where we lived then — as he’s part Native American)

After a discussion of race on the level of a 6- or 7-year-old, and a discussion of heritage, and why you don’t tell people you’re something you’re not, the subject dropped. It remained a favourite piece of my social justice talks w/ the kids. Because here’s what I learned: Santa is what your family is. Probably your Dad. And that’s as it should be.

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On to Jesus, that other Christmas figure (ostensibly the reason for the season). Fox says he also is white. Again, WHAT??? This is sooo not probable. As in: almost certainly not even true. FAR more likely that Jesus was black than white, and likeliest he was BROWN. Unlike Santa — which is bad enough, turning a fictional cultural hero into another white guy — Jesus is GOD for many children. And if you worry that your kids will find out you lied about Santa? Read Aisha Harris’s blog post, that triggered the Fox damage control panel. See the damage done to just one sensitive child, thinking  Santa didn’t look like her, or her family.

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Now multiply that by a factor of critical explosion. GOD doesn’t look like you, either. And what might be the significance of THAT? Other than justification for a hundred ostensibly Christian white supremacist organisations.

The oldest surviving Christ Pantocrator icon, 6th century, St. Catherine's Monastery.

The oldest surviving Christ Pantocrator icon, 6th century, St. Catherine’s Monastery.

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What does it MATTER if we paint Santa black or brown or red or rainbow? Why can’t this mythical figure be whatever? Recently a friend of mine wrote a blog on subtle racism. The kind of ad that shows a handsome, young Asian guy by an Italian sports car, implying that the Asian engineer will have somehow made your car better. He gets that often. And ALWAYS notices.

Don’t you think that seeing Santa as a white dude, when you’re a black or brown or red kid, is at least as dischordant? Maybe you don’t. But IF you don’t, try thinking of Santa as what the original Saint Nicholas was: an old Greek guy. If it doesn’t matter what Santa looks like, why would that bother you?

And then? Think of Jesus as a rebel Jew, trying to overthrow the status quo. Because that’s what Christmas is really all about. No matter WHAT Fox would like to pretend.

 

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tea with Grandmother (and others)

holiday tea with grandmother's small tea set2Tea is a friendly drink. It doesn’t jazz you like coffee. I can have it in the afternoon, for instance, and still sleep that night. :) And if — like me — you’ve collected/ inherited/ been given tea wares for many years, it becomes a kind of time travel, as well. And today it was its own early holiday present from people who love me.

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Let’s start with this tea tray. It’s my mother-in-law’s aluminum tray, one of my favourites. I feel very grateful to have it — she served many a treat on it over the years. The cloth on it is my mother’s, one of her many linens I inherited. The ruby glass plate is Mother’s, as well. She bought them piece by piece — we didn’t have much  money then — from the Avon lady. (They were always called ‘the Avon lady,’ when I was small.)

The small tea set my Grandmother Britton painted herself. With her own hands! And then fired it in the small kiln that took up way too much room in the kitchen (and made it hot as hell in the summer). It’s covered with blue forget-me-nots, as much of her early work was.2011-05-30 13.42.57

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I have two other tea sets painted by Grandmother, both given to me to make up for my father refusing to let me have my grandmother’s china set. Even though Grandmother specifically asked him. “Mama,” he said, “I bought that set for you to paint. It’s mine.” Grandmother was horrified (& pretty mad, as I recall), and gave me this small tea set. And when I married, Aunt Ina gave me another, and my mother gave me hers. It was a good trade. :)

The cup is one my nephew (by marriage, actually, but I love him as dearly as my blood nevvies) gave me last Christmas. It has a bee on it! The tea was brought from India by the mother of a former colleague — now a dear friend. Probably the only two things on the tray I bought are the cookies and the spoon. I could have put my own baby spoon (in my mother’s Rosepoint pattern, now my pattern too), that Aunt Leona had engraved w/ my name. But every day needs a different spoon, and today wasn’t a Rosepoint day. It’s more an 18th Century day: simple, traditional, plain & elegant.

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You can see that tea today — totally by happenstance! — carries on its fragrance the stuff of memories. Spending long weekends — even weeks — at Grandmother’s house in Turley. Playing dominoes & Scrabble (she always cheated). Eating her applesauce cake.

Mom’s trabirthday teay sometimes held savouries — cheese-stuffed celery for the holidays — and other times sweets — Dad’s amazing fruitcake (I happen to LOVE good fruitcake). While the ruby glass reminds me of my mother, and so many holidays when she used her large set of plates, goblets, serving pieces, acquired over several years. The tea, the cup… New memories and dear connections continue to be forged. Family expands, and friends grow only dearer.

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I suppose other people drink from cracked mugs and don’t care. Not me. I make a tea tray even if I’m still in my pjs. I want to start my morning with order & beauty. Even when I worked, and drank huge mugs of tea on the long drive to work, I began with a tray. Laid with a cloth. Fresh boiling water, and loose tea. Poured into a strainer, set in a big glass mug, which I warmed with boiling water. Then warm the car mug, and pour the sweetened tea & milk into it.

So in addition to the oasis of calm a tea tray offers, it establishes a point of stop. breathe. relax. And that’s such a bonus in today’s busy lives. When was the last time you sat down and thought about all the people who love you? And ate cookies & drank hot tea while feeling loved!2013-01-26 14.04.19

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You don’t need your beloved mother-in-law’s tray, or your mother’s embroidered tea cloth from Hong Kong. Or even wonderful tea. You can place a pretty paper napkin beside a cheerful mug (maybe with a bee on it!), and steep a teabag in boiling water. Honey from a teddy bear squeeze bottle is just as nice, in its own way, as Demerara sugar cubes and a silver scoop given you so long ago you forgot whose present it was.

Try it. It’s probably just the moment of mindful self-love you need today.

 

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