Auld Lang Syne

My mother was a faithful woman.  And in the early hours of Christmas Eve morn, she went to be with her Lord and Savior.

Yesterday was the Celebration of Life for her, and tomorrow starts a new year.  My first year without her.

My very talented sister in law put together a beautiful photo retrospective.  She included one of my favorite photos of my mom.  Still glowing with youth and full of life, it perfectly captures her joy and fiestiness and her grace…

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Charlene Zeller (1935-2016)

 

In honor of her, I will recount the words I said at her service–mostly so those who never got a chance to know her might at least know of her.

Those gathered here today undoubtedly knew of my mother’s grace and generosity. One of the ways her love manifested itself was through giving. It was undoubtedly her Love Language, and she was fluent in it. She loved to go shopping—she considered it a quest of sorts—a quest to find the Perfect Pairing of Gift and Value. (She came from Scottish ancestry, and their renowned thriftiness was a trait she bore with pride.)

In her quest to find Just the Right Gift, my mother hunted all year. The only problem was that, once she found that Perfect Gift, she simply couldn’t bear to wait to see the expression of joy and surprise. Many times she would call me at work and tell me that I needed to stop by on my way home so she could present me with one of her finds.

Even once she started chemo, she often sweet talked my father to run her by some store or other on the way to treatment, or afterwards, so that she could pick up something special for someone. I still have the text on my phone from this past Spring when she had located something special…you see, Mom had passed on to me her love of plants, and she had found a certain plant which she knew I wanted for my garden. She was eager to surprise me with it and couldn’t wait to tell me about it. Her text said: Hint: Witch Hazel, come by and get it tonight, OK?

When I picked up the plant that evening, I was shocked to find that it barely fit in my SUV. As always, when Mom did things, she did them big.

A lot of the flowers and herbs that grace my garden were gifts from my Mom. They are a living reminder of her and, soon, when Winter gives way to Spring, I can walk among the plants and feel her near.

Once of the reasons she loved plants so much was, along with their beauty, they had purpose…they had meaning.

One of the last plants she gave me was that Witch Hazel….in ancient times, it was believed that Witch Hazel could ward off evil…and soothe a broken heart.

It seems that, even as the end drew near, Mama was searching for one last perfect gift.

Thank you, Mama.

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Go mbeannai Dia dhuit.

 

 

Fandom Shaming Needs to GO #RespectTheFandoms

I have no idea what a Magmar is, other than the word kinda looks like Ragnar. Which makes me think of Ragnar Lothbrok…which makes me wonder when the new season of Viking starts. I don’t know because it isn’t my fandom. And I’m okay with that. Some people, however…aren’t.

My kids like Pokemon Go. They like walking around the neighborhood catching them. They volunteer to run errands with me, and they bring their phones, and they ask me to turn right when I could just as well go straight, but I do it because it costs me nothing and yet it makes them happy, and it gives us a few more minutes together, and later I overhear them telling their friends that they caught a Nidorina…which means nothing to me. Except it makes them happy, and the word kinda looks like Narnia, which makes me wonder the last time I read C. S. Lewis, and I make a note to dig out the books.

I understand the lure of books, and games, and television shows. I know firsthand how a book can open your eyes to new possibilities, or breathe life into interests that had been left for dead. The Outlander books reminded me of my interest in herbs, and nudged me into gardening more seriously, and urged me to track down my ancestry. The books reminded me of the importance of strength and endurance and made me want to take better care of this body I inhabit. The books whispered to me and echoed the beauty of the words of my ancestors spoke, and the words they spoke were Gaelic, and I wanted to understand. So now I have dozen books on the subject on my shelves, and I can say a few halting phrases, and it makes me stupidly proud…

My daughter went to a Con this weekend. It was her second. She planned her outfits months in advance. She spent hours on her makeup. She styled her wig. On the first day of the convention she walked around for eight hours. She found her place among other made-up faces and she took photos to share. In the photos, she smiled; in the photos, she was no longer the awkward 14 year old who was self-conscious of her smile or her adolescent skin—she was brave, and she was alive, and she was…happy.

There is strength in numbers. There is joy in recognizing yourself in those numbers.

Personally, I don’t care if Pokemon Go gets people to—however unwittingly—exercise. I do not care if you are a forty-three year old who wants to Catch Them All. I do not care if you spend your down time scavenging for super rare creatures whose names escape me. I don’t care—not because I am Above It All—but because it makes you happy. And that is enough.

For those who think that time is better spent studying or reading or creating or doing…ANYTHING other than Wasting Time…perhaps a reminder is in order: It is their time to waste, and perhaps your time would be better spent doing something—anything—other than sucking the joy out of another person’s life like a Dementor. (Yes. I went there. Deal with it.)

Because in a world where we actually have to remind ourself that lives—any lives—matter, and where those sworn to Serve and Protect are being assassinated by those eager to have their names written in the annals of time, if we can find something that brings us joy, something that brings us a bit of peace at the end of the day, something that makes the news for bringing people together rather than tearing them apart…then I am all for it.

I will happily drive my kids over another block, or another, or another.

Collect that Magmar, Exeggutor, or Nidorina if it makes you happy. Read Outlander if it gives your peace. Watch Supernatural, or Sherlock, or Game of Thrones if it gives you something to look forward to…no, in fact, watch them all. You don’t have to choose.

Because tearing down someone else does not raise you up…and tearing down another person’s fandom does nothing to strengthen your own.

The Duality of Jamie Fraser (or Religion in #Outlander, Part I)

The best stories keep you thinking long after you read them.  They hang around and whisper to you…they nudge and prod you…they force you to consider (or reconsider) what you believe.  These are the stories I read, and the stories I try to write.

So, of course, that make me think about Outlander (feel free to go grab a cup of tea—or some whisky, I won’t judge).

SPOILER

 Ok, now that we have that out of the way…

One of the things that I love about Outlander is the spirituality it encompasses.  I mean, obviously Jamie is Catholic.  The books have an amazing number of prayers, in an impressive array of languages (English! French! Gaelic!)*  And, of course, it makes me feel guilty because I do well to mutter a few prayers in my one language, whereas Jamie seems to have about a million prayers—really long prayers–memorized…but I digress.

Jamie is a highlander, and the superstitions of his time are as much a part of his life as his Catholicism is.  He knows the patron saint for every occasion, just as he knows how to keep a spirit from leaving its grave (salt!).  He takes blood oaths, and he recites the Act of Contrition in French.  He carries a dried mole foot in his sporran to ward of rheumatism, and he prays nearly unceasingly for Claire and their unborn child after he is forced to send them back through the stones.  (If you have not read “The Scottish Prisoner,” yet, why the heck not!!  Seriously.  Also, I am normally not an audio book person, but it was amazing.)

There are entire books and blogs and discussion boards that happily deconstruct the symbolism and superstition in Outlander.  But what really interests me is Jamie’s duality—the way that his Catholicism and the pagan traditions of that time and that place are inextricably woven together.

One bit, in particular, comes to mind.*** It is from Echo in the Bone (so, if you didn’t heed my spoiler warning, consider this your last chance)…

…that particular spring always had the air of being remote from everything.  It lay in the center of a small grove of white ash and hemlock, and was shielded on the east by a jagged out-cropping of lichen-covered rock.  All water has a sense of life about it, and a mountain spring carries a particular sense of quiet joy, rising pure from the heart of the earth.  The White Spring, so called for the big pale boulder that stood guardian over its pool, had something more—a sense of inviolate peace.

The closer I came to it, the surer I was that that was where I’d find Jamie.

‘There’s something there that listens,’ he told Brianna once, quite casually.  ‘Ye see such pools in the Highlands; they’re called saints’ pools—folk say the saint lives by the pool and listens to their prayers.’

‘And what saint lives by the White Spring?’ she’d asked, cynical.  ‘Saint Killian?’

‘Why him?’

‘Patron saint of gout, rheumatism, and whitewashers.’

He’d laughed at that, shaking his head.

‘Whatever it is that lives in such water is older than the notion of saints,’ he’d assured her.  ‘But it listens.’

I walked softly, approaching the spring.  The jays had fallen silent now.

He was there, sitting on a rock by the water, wearing only his shirt.  I saw why the jays had gone about their  business—he was still as the white boulder itself, his eyes closed, hands turned upward on his knees, loosely cupped, inviting grace.

I stopped at once when I saw him.  I had seen him pray here once before—when he’d asked Dougal MacKenzie for help in battle.  I didn’t know who he was talking to just now, but it wasn’t a conversation I wished to intrude on.

It was there that Jamie uttered the prayer that defines his life, his love, and his heart:  Let me be enough.

Despite the many long litanies that Jamie had memorized over the years, in his times of greatest need, his prayers were always simple, direct, and heartfelt.

Let me be enough. 

And for those that have read “The Scottish Prisoner”…

Lord, that she might be safe.  She and the bairn.

When there is nothing else he can rely on (not his strength, or determination, or sheer willpower), Jamie takes his fear and desperation and quietly “offers it up.”

When I read “The Scottish Prisoner,” I thought about how overwhelming it must have been for Jamie.  To simply not know if someone was alive and safe.  No wonder that Jamie considered it his own purgatory on earth.  I imagine the desperation nearly suffocating him, and the only way to keep the panic at bay was to repeat the words and to hold onto them like a lifeline.

Lord, that she might be safe.  She and the bairn.

No answers, no certainly, no closure.  The only possible path to peace is through acceptance.

I always thought in the first two books Jamie is rather like a shield.  He is happy to put himself between Claire and danger.  He doesn’t flinch from taking whatever pain or suffering is directed at her.

But in the later books, Jamie is more like a stone.  Yes, he can still be a barrier, but age and wisdom made him more than that; he is also a foundation…and Claire (as well as the rest of their family) builds her life upon him.

Jamie’s spirituality, his Catholicism, and his deep and abiding faith also influence those around him.  I was amazed by the changes in Claire, of course, but I was also intrigued by the changes in Young Ian (have I mentioned how much I adore him?).  [And, for the record, I am planning to do additional blogs to talk about religion/spirituality as it relates to Claire and Young Ian.]

And, honestly, the books have changed me…they made me want to be a better Catholic.  I have highlighted huge sections of the prayers on my Kindle, and I have tracked down quite a few old prayer books and books on the saints.  I have also picked up a book on Highland superstitions.  It has a lot about plants and blessing to say when you plant and harvest certain wee herbs.  (With my gardening skills, a few prayers certainly wouldn’t be amiss!)

I have found that I find a great deal of peace while puttering around the garden and feeling the wind in my hair and the cool grass underfoot.  And the chickens help, too.  Perhaps it is the sense that you are responsibly for something other than yourself.****

But then Jamie already knew that.  Claire was right, he was too quick by half.

 * I keep promising myself that I will collect all of the prayers** in one place where I can refer back to them.

 ** This would be much easier if the publishers would, someday, offer the full collection of novels (and novellas), in order, as one digital file, so that I could use the search function for this purpose.  Please, please do this someday, book publishing people, because I would throw money at you to be able to have this!

 ***Yes, I know there are tons more.  So let’s talk about them!  Leave a comment with your favorite snippet or scene that shows Jamie’s spirituality.

 ****No, for those wondering, I did not name any of them Laoghaire…or Claire or Jamie, for that matter.  Although, in the interest of full disclosure, they are all named after Scottish clans: Seton, Maxwell, and *ahem*…MacKenzie and Fraser.

After #Outlander

With Outlander now on hiatus, there are hours to fill. Long, hot, Oklahoma-summery hours. With hours and hours without school to help occupy the children.

So. Much. Time.

Yes, yes, I know there are always 24 hours in a day, but there is something about the heat that makes the days drag. Some days it seems that all I do is make the sweaty commutes to and from work…and try to convince my children that cleaning their rooms is a good way to alleviate boredom. (No, they never, ever believe me—but I try.)

This year, however, I was inspired. Inspired (as in so many things) by reading Outlander. Inspired, also, by the fact that Hubs survived The Widow Maker.

As a result, I wanted this summer to be Something More. I wanted it to be Memorable.

So, I planted more flowers than usual…

Purple Cone Flower
Purple Cone Flower

…and more vegetables.

(Peas, tomatoes, string beans, black beans, jalapenos, leeks, and onions.)

…and more fruit. (I planted a crabapple tree, two apple trees, a raspberry bush, a blueberry bush, two blackberry bushes, and two elderberry bushes. We added a second grape vine (with plans to add two more).

Apples!
Apples!

And I planted plenty of herbs (five varieties of lavender, three varieties of rosemary, curry, two kinds of sage, four kinds of thyme, cilantro, parsley, horehound, ten kinds of mint, dill, three kinds of oregano, three kinds of basil, a couple of stevia plants, tarragon, chives, bergamot, wild ginger, ginseng, chamomile, calendula, lemon verbena, lemon grass…I know I am forgetting something…)

We like mint, don't judge.
We like mint, don’t judge.

And I planted flowers. Lots of flowers.

Borage
Borage
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Lots of purple flowers.
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Chamomile and more purple flowers.

And, last weekend…

(insert drumroll here!)…

Cluck!
Cluck!

…we added four chickens to our bramble of a backyard.* Three Buff Orpingtons and one Bar Rock. (I am looking to add a couple of more asap, because apparently there is a thing called “chicken math” where you plan to get three chickens, come home with four, and immediately add two more. Fortunately I am much better at this “chicken math” than “new math.”)

I spent Friday night putting together the coop while Hubs was at work (I might have forgotten to tell him that I was finally going through with all this! Oops! Surprise, honey!).

Coop in the daylight.
Coop in the daylight.

My dad was kind enough to help put together the coop. As daylight gave way to dusk, we kept hammering and piecing things together. It felt good…and productive…so nice for something to make sense again. Before long, we were building by moonlight. I broke the silence to ask my dad if a chicken coop built in the moonlight was somehow lucky. (After the stress and drama of this year, I will take my luck where I can find it.) I could hear the smile in his voice when he answered, “Yes. You’ll be lucky if this coop stays together.”

I laughed like I hadn’t laughed in ages. And it felt good.

It had been a while since I laughed. Laughing felt like tempting fate. I didn’t want to mess with her…she was a bitch! So I had stayed quiet. I had kept my head down. I didn’t want to look too far ahead.

When Hubs was in the hospital, the books were my refuge. I read them, and re-read them. They were my touchstone. They reminded me that True Love was hard and scary…but that it was worth fighting for, worth sacrificing for, and that gave me hope.

I read about the potatoes in Jenny’s root cellar, and I read about Claire’s garden and her wee herbs. I had always loved herbs. As a teen, my room was filled with books about herbs and their uses. I saved money to buy herbs…much like a “normal” teenage girl might buy clothes.

But somewhere along the way, there was not enough time, or space, or money, or…something. Somewhere along the way, I let it slip away from me. Reading the books reminded me of how many things that I loved and let go. And when Hubs had his heart attack, it reminded me that life was too damned short and unpredictable to put things off.

So I bought chickens. Because, I gotta tell you, chickens are friggin’ cute.

We named them all after Scottish clans...one *might* be named Fraser.
We named them all after Scottish clans…one *might* be named Fraser.

Yes, I bought chickens. And I planted herbs, and vegetables, and fruit. I started to study Gaelic, and I researched my genealogy, and I listened to bagpipe music while I watered the plants.

So while Outlander is on hiatus, I will not fret over Droughtlander or obsess about every snippet of series information that ripples across the internet (although I really AM looking forward to seeing Season 2!).

Instead, I will enjoy my summer…the summer that Outlander inspired.

Slàinte
Sláinte mhath.

* Yes, I know that Jamie said that “Chickens make verra poor company.” But he and I do not agree on everything. For example, I am in the “Claire camp” when it comes to neck kisses. Just sayin.’

Ash Wednesday, Words, and Droch Cainnt

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself
I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgment not be too heavy upon us.

From Ash Wednesday, by T. S. Eliot

Words often get in my head and clamor around until I write them away.  Maybe that is why I always loved that bit of Ash Wednesday.  These matters that with myself / I too much discuss / Too much explain… It is familiar.  Words have a way of doing that…of getting under my skin.  Words have meaning and power.  Words hold sway over us.  That is why it is so hard for me to give them up…any of them—words I mean.  I like having all of the words at my disposal, because words all have different connotations, different baggage that they bring with them.  Words have history and they carry that history with them.  Words said in anger, in love, or in doubt retain that shadow when uttered again.

For Lent, I will give up some of my words.  Not all of them, mind you…I am a writer, after all.  But I will give up the more irreverent words* that seem to pepper my conversations (especially my conversations with computers and office equipment that is not cooperating).  I plan to give up the curses that seem to form on my lips before I am even aware that I have formed the intent to utter them.  Oh, yes, though the speech itself may be coarse, it drips from my lips like honey.

You see, while my parents have pristine speech, my DNA harkens back to a people for whom curses were an art form.  And, truth be told, I find it rather comforting to be resurrecting verbal filth once feasibly uttered by my ancestors.

Curse words can provide a certain visceral relief in times of stress.  (Trust me; it is immensely satisfying to find precisely the right curse for a given occasion.)  Profanity can also act as a verbal intensifier and sometimes, just sometimes, curses can be a thing of beauty; the right words (however coarse) in the right language can be almost poetic.

So, yes, in giving up my ability to communicate and articulate freely, I chose to give up something quite dear to me for Lent.  For me, it is much more of a sacrifice than giving up meat, or sweets, or social media.  So, scoff if you like; but, if you do, be aware that you might well get an earful…just not in English.

*To clarify, because I am not a saint and I would rather not set myself up for utter failure, I will allow myself a few colorful utterances with the caveat that they must be uttered in a foreign tongue.