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…

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.


Go mbeannai Dia dhuit.




Pins and Needles and Prayers

Christmas with Mom (2015)

Tomorrow is my mom’s brain scan, and I am on pins and needles.  We will find out if her lung cancer has metasticized to her brain.  If you are a prayerful person, if you have been known to offer up well-wishes, to light candles, or to otherwise implore to something Bigger, something More, please keep my mom in your thoughts…your prayers…your heart.

This is all the words I have in me today.

These are the only words that matter.

#Outlander, Christmas, and Rereading Books

Books are my touchstones. I carry them with me…battered copies tucked in my bag, a library of books on my phone, and always, always books in my heart. So many of my old photos have books in them, and I can tell you what was going on in my life by what I was reading.

Christmas 1984 – loved stories, and history, and losing myself…that was my Laura Ingalls Wilder period. Still love history.

Christmas 1985 – middle school, awkward, one foot in adolescence and one in childhood…ahhh, yes. Sweet Valley High and Flowers in the Attic. Don’t’ judge.

Christmas 1987 – young, broody…that would be my Sylvia Plath period.

Christmas 1991 – idealistic, romantic, and nostalgic…that was the year I discovered Norman Maclean.

Fast-forward to 2015, and I am re-re-re-reading Outlander. Yes, yes, I know. I have read it a *cough* few times. But there is a very good reason for that: It’s worth rereading.

Outlander-blue-cover-198x300I have mentioned before that the Outlander series, quite literally, helped me survive my husband’s heart attack this past March. I read while he rested in the hospital. The books were my refuge, my companion, my escape, my comfort. They still are.

So, when I realized that I wasn’t feeling all Eggnog-and-Holiday-Cheer, I tried to slow down and take a breath. It helped…a bit. I felt less stressed, but there was still the voice in my head whispering about the Christmas lights that were still in boxes, and the decided lack of Christmas cookies, this year’s non-existent Family Christmas Card, and the fact that Christmas is two freakin’ weeks away and I have done exactly NONE of my Usual Christmas Traditions.

We have not gone driving around to look at Christmas lights even once, I have not watched my traditional Christmas movies (The Family Man; Love, Actually; The Holiday, or It’s A Wonderful Life), and I have bought exactly…nothing. So, basically, I feel like I am sucking at this whole Mom Thing.

*Insert holiday induced pity party here.*

So, after a nice cup of fortifying tea, I started wondering what the holidays would have been like for Jamie and Claire. (Well, not that first Christmas. We know exactly what THAT was like for poor Jamie…let’s not go there. *shudder*  Oh, and not that incredibly rage inducing and misguided Hogmanay with Laoghaire. *makes sign of horns*)

No, I mean the later Christmases…those at Fraser’s Ridge. Actually, in The Fiery Cross Diana told us (she’s good like that) what the holidays were like. Spoiler: They were nothing like the holiday season as we have mangled it.

Despite all the of the responsibilities of being Himself, Jamie still found time to carve Jem a wooden horse, and he also carved Claire a new wooden ladle with the image of a mint leaf carved on the handle. And, despite all the time spent physicking, Claire gave Jamie “a new shirt with ruffles at the throat for ceremonial occasions.”

As Diana reminds us:

Catholics as many of them were—and nominally Christian as they all were—Highland Scots regarded Christmas primarily as a religious observance, rather than a major festive occasion. Lacking priest or minister, the day was spent much like a Sunday, thought with a particularly lavish meal to mark the occasion, and the exchange of small gifts.

I imagine a lovely meal courtesy of Mrs. Bugg (God rest her soul), and perhaps Claire would make some of her molasses cookies. And I am quite sure there was a wee dram to be had. Perhaps a song or two as well. Likely no cherry bounce or jigs and reels. But it was enough.

There was no tinsel, no movies, no stampede of crowds. There was no competing to get the biggest or best present for kids or grandkids. There was no social obligation filling every spare moment. There was food, and family, a fire in the hearth, and food on the table. And it was enough.

Once again, books steady me, comfort me. And this is why I reread books…because, like an old friend who knows me well, books bring me back to what matters.

Finding the Quiet

treeIt just doesn’t feel like the holidays yet.  Perhaps it is because the past week or so has been nothing but obligations: running errands, tending to unforeseen things that have a tendency to arise when there is no time to deal with them, and trying to “get ready” for the festivities (or rather, stress about buying all the things that have not yet been bought).  The end result, however, is more Bah-Humbug than Happy Holidays.

The days slip away, and each day I count down how many more days before the holidays are here.  I contemplate what event I can mark off next, as if they are hurdles to be overcome rather than moments to savor.  I—so caught up in preparing for fifteen minutes of unwrapping—have forgotten to slow down and enjoy the quiet sense anticipation of the season.

I do know how to manage it, which helps.  I need to find the quiet.  Sometimes I need to go outside and stand in the winter’s chill and lift my eyes to the heavens.  Or perhaps it is enough to wrap myself in a well-worn tartan and, with a wee dram in hand, sit before the flickering fire and let the stress rise and float away like the crackling embers.  Or solace may come to me in the still of night, while I listen to the rise and fall of breath next to me, and—reaching over and laying my hand across his chest–find blessings enough in the warm and solid presence of my husband.

There are too many commercials, too many parties and luncheons, too many forced celebrations.  I will find my joy in the quiet moments in between.  In the twinkle of Christmas lights in the darkness and in stars overhead, in the smell of gingerbread baked “just because.”  And in ancient carols spilling from smiling lips…rather than tinny sounding sounds blared over department store speakers.  I’ll take comfort in the pile of wood next to my hearth, in a pair of warm mittens when I tend to the chickens.  And, as I add more hay to their coop, I’ll recall another manger, another night, another twinkling star…and I’ll remember what is important.

The Conversion of Claire Fraser (or Religion in #Outlander Part II)

Rosary01If Jamie Fraser has the faith I wish I had (the unwavering faith that I strive to have), then perhaps Claire’s faith is a bit closer to my religious reality.  Like Jamie, Claire was also a “cradle Catholic.”  But when we first meet Claire she was (and had never been) a practicing Catholic.  (That isn’t to say that she didn’t have some core beliefs tucked away under the foul mouth and headstrong ways that we all know and love.  That’s just to say that, well, Claire changes over the story.  And her religious beliefs are one of the things that change…or at least deepen and evolve.)

Claire’s initial brush with organized religion might have tainted a lesser person… Certainly her run in with the local priest, circa. 1743, wasn’t an event likely to make her feel welcomed into the proverbial fold and, when later faced with an abundance of Highland superstitions, a visit to Auld Nick’s kirkyard, and charges of witchcraft, one might be able to see her, ahem, disinclination.

But Life (even Fictional Book Life) has a way of making you have to rethink things, and often results in the need to eat your words, totally change alliances, or otherwise transform yourself.  (*Ahem* Not that I’m speaking from experience here).  Yep.  Claire has one of Those Moments.

After saving Jamie from the Wentworth, and their subsequent escape to France and to the abbey, Claire finds a kind of spiritual advisor in Father Anselm.  (And yes, this was one of the scenes that I really, really wish had been on the show.  Feel free to lament the loss with me.)

When Father Anselm and Claire discuss her religion, she tells him that she isn’t Protestant, but she isn’t really Catholic, either.  She isn’t much of anything.  But he explains to her that if she was baptized Catholic, then the mark is still on her.  (You know, kinda like that “J” scar that we all secretly…or not so secretly…wish we had on the base of our hand. *swoon*)

It’s Father Anselm who introduces Claire to the ritual of Perpetual Adoration (and it’s a ritual that Claire takes comfort in more than once in the books).  This time spent in quiet contemplation, alone and yet so very NOT alone, marks the turning point in Claire’s religious metamorphosis.  (And, yes, I do see the change in Claire as being exactly that pronounced.)

Of course, falling through time, having everything you know ripped away from you, and finding yourself in constant danger are certainly enough to make one call out for the help of someone, or something, greater to intervene on your behalf.  Except Claire didn’t.  Or rather, those things weren’t what finally pushed Claire to examine her beliefs.  Those things weren’t what finally formed a prayer on Claire’s lips.


Old time, old life, old world be damned.  It was the thought of losing Jamie that made her reach for something, anything, to save him.  It was Jamie that finally evoked a prayer from Claire’s lips.

It was always Jamie.

When situations warranted, the Claire of the later books makes the sign of the cross without hesitation.  The Claire of the later books also routinely blesses Jamie before battle, and she is clearly moved when Jamie invokes the same blessing on her behalf when she goes to deliver a child.  She often utters prayers to saints over the course of the later books.  (Something that Book 1 Claire was not likely to do!)

However, her Catholicism is colored by Jamie’s own and, like his, there is a certain spirituality rooted in Jamie’s Celtic homeland that permeates her beliefs as well.  While not quite as superstitious as her Highlander husband, she finds great comfort in the fact that Jamie knows just the right saint for every occasion, and that he knows that salt keeps the spirits from walking.

Her perfectly rational 20th century certainty definitely took a blow once she went through the stones.  When science and reason can’t find explanation, one must look elsewhere for answers.  Is it any wonder that the things that finally give her grounding, are things based on faith…religion, love, the hope for a future?

Not bad things to build a life around, if you ask me.*

*  Of course, having a strapping Highlander husband around to share that life doesn’t hurt, either. Speaking of which, I’m very grateful for my own Scottish-blooded husband.  (See, honey, I don’t just talk about Jamie.)

NOTE:  For those who might wonder about the use of “conversion” in the title, since Claire did not initially identify as “Catholic,” or anything for that matter, it seems to me that by adopting any form of religious identity she actually did undergo a religious conversion.  (Plus, I’ll be honest, I really like alliteration.)