New Year’s Eve reminders

Not all of us get to party tonight. Please spare a thought for our first responders, who’ll be on the job to keep us safe!

Holiday Cheer for Our First Responders, a painting by Teresa Ascone.

Be nice to them at checkpoints, and designate a driver, please!

Keeping us safe this Holiday Season, a poster by Teresa Ascone.
They’re working hard tonight! Don’t give them more to do!

IMAGE: Many thanks to Teresa Ascone via Fine Art America for her Holiday Cheer for Our First Responders painting, and to Teresa Ascone’s “Holiday Art” Pinterest page for her Keeping Us Safe this Holiday Season poster. Thanks to Bonfire Designs for the EMS greeting.

On picking up the pieces and moving forward

What is this week? Specifically, what’s the middle of this week? 

It’s the moment when the balance shifts, from Solstice-and- Christmas-stuff toward New-Year thinking.

It’s the time of the week when, if we’re back at work from a break, we’re picking up the projects we’d temporarily laid aside, and gearing back up for business-as-usual. Many of us are dealing with a pile of deferred work that’s been stacking up while we were gone, just waiting for our return to trigger the avalanche.

If we’re still on holiday break, we’re cleaning up the shreds of wrapping paper and ribbon, and deciding if it’s time to start taking down the decorations yet. If we had a live Christmas tree, it’s probably turning into a dry, brittle fire hazard. We’re living on leftovers (and more than a little bored with them by now). If the Christmas jigsaw hasn’t been fully pieced together yet it might be time to give up and put it back in its box.

The Unfinished Puzzle, by Daniel McLean

Some of us are traveling home. Some of us are still trying to figure out where to put stuff. Some of us are relieved that we survived for another year, while others are so depressed we’re not sure we did survive.

But the one thing about this point in the week is that while we’re making our Gotta-Go Soup* or Googling eco-friendly things to do with our old Christmas tree, we’re also shifting gears and moving toward the dawn of a New Year. What will 2017 bring? 

Well, some things are a given. A new Presidential administration, for example. That there will be more winter in the Northern Hemisphere before we get started on spring. That time passes and change happens.

Other stuff is less predictable, but when things happen they must be dealt with (even “good” stress is still stress). Perhaps a loss or gain in your family (or your waistline), a change in jobs, locations, or marital status. A new opportunity. A health issue.

Stuff happens. What we do about the stuff that happens is the test.

I hope you’ll move into the New Year from a place of wholeness and peace, but not all of us are so blessed. Whatever place you’re in, today, there are things you can do, steps you can take, plans you can make (although always with at least a Plan B, because life is like that).

I hope your plans will include two things:

(1) Being good to yourself

No one is as big a screw-up as they sometimes think they are, and everyone deserves a break sometimes. I don’t mean just pampering yourself, as with a “spa day,” though if that’s really what you need I hope you can find a way to manage it. I mean choosing good paths for yourself that lead to a better-for-you way of life, whether that’s an improvement in diet, a set of priorities that allow more exercise, or the setting of healthier personal boundaries.

(2) Finding or nurturing a passion

Without meaningful purpose in your life nothing is worth the effort. The needs of the world are many, and the challenges are great. We cannot solve all problems, but we can work with like-minded others to solve the particular problems that call to our hearts. We’ve recently had Boxing Day as a reason to consider what causes we value and believe in; now, more than ever, we must find ways to support and protect the things, the people, and the foundational principles we cherish the most.

So take this middle-of-the-week, picking-up-the-pieces day, and consider well how you will meet the New Year. We can go forward in despair, repeating old patterns hopelessly, or we can go forward with determination to hold the line on certain things and push forward for improvement on others.

Each of us gets to choose.

***

*Gotta-Go Soup:

If it’s Got To Go, it’s a candidate for Gotta-Go Soup (a variation on Leftovers Supreme). This is my grandmother’s recipe:

(1) FLAVOR-MATCHING: Assemble your leftovers. Evaluate what flavors would go together best, and separate them out (put the others in the fridge or the compost/garbage, as appropriate). Figure out what kind of stock or base would best compliment the flavors you’ve assembled.

(2) COOKING: Get out a big pot. Put it on the back burner filled with said stock or soup base. Reduce all your other selections to small, bite-size pieces, and put them in the pot, too. Heat it all up and simmer for at least an hour (smell up the house real good). Season to taste.

(3) EATING: Serve with warm, crusty French bread or other favored accompaniment. You might be surprised how good it tastes!

IMAGES: Many thanks to Life on the Buy Side for the photo of the daunting office paperwork backup, to the blog Meanders for the wrapping-paper wreckage photo, and to Daniel McLean and his Flickr Photostream for the image The Unfinished Puzzle (permission granted via a Creative Commons License). 

I appreciate the availability of the snowy highway photo (in Eden Prairie, MN–doesn’t look quite so Edenic in this photo, though) from Minnesota Public Radio’s Updraft blog. Many thanks also to the Buy a House Club for the image of the discarded Christmas Tree (from an article on better things to do with them), and to Inspiring Buzz for the quotation image about changes in one’s life.

I greatly appreciate the quotation image about being tender with oneself from Helen Hirst’s “Self Nurturing” Pinterest board, and to The Huffington Post for the Fabienne Fredrickson quote on passions as our calling. Finally, many thanks to Video Blocks for the photo of the soup pot.

How can we be both generous and wise?

The Artdog Quote of the Week

Today is not only Kwanzaa, but also Boxing Day in much of the English-speaking world. No, contrary to some of the stories I’ve heard, Boxing Day isn’t called that because we bundle all our unwanted gifts back into their boxes and return them to the stores that day.

The name of the holiday comes from the alms boxes or the poor boxes that churches have put out over the centuries, to collect aid for the poor. In other words, the holiday seeks to honor and promote the tradition of charitable giving during the holidays.

Maybe you have some newly-received “Christmas money” fattening your pocketbook and would like to share some of it, or maybe you are seeking a nice tax deduction before the end of the year. Maybe you simply have the altruistic generosity of love for others overflowing in your heart (wouldn’t that be lovely?).

Whatever your motivation, today is a traditional day for charitable giving. If that’s your aim, then God bless you!

If you are in the habit of giving, you probably have your list of favorites already. Mine include our local animal shelter, the Great Plains SPCA, my church, Harvesters, The Nature Conservancy, the ASPCA, the Southern Poverty Law Center, K9s4Cops, and WikipediaI’d give more to the many deserving others in operation, but as I noted last week, all of us mortals are finite beings with finite resources. If I may disagree slightly with Anne Frank above, it is possible to impoverish yourself from giving, although the intrinsic benefits are many.

I hope you have your own list! But wherever you give, may I also suggest that you run it past The Charity Navigator (another excellent candidate for receiving donations, by the way), for a dose of clarity and realism before you invest too deeply? Unfortunately, wherever generous people seek to help others with their gifts, there also are unscrupulous people who seek only to enrich themselves in the name of “charity.” The Charity Navigator helps us to be both generous and wise

Happy Boxing Day!

IMAGES: Many thanks to Inspired by Familia, by Mari Hernandez-Tuten, for the Anne Frank quote image. Her article includes some perceptive insights you also might find interesting. Many thanks to Period Oak Antiques for the photo of an alms box from about 1450; there are more views of it on the website. We now have more efficient ways to give, though no less need. The Charity Navigator logo is from the organization’s website.

Christmas Blessings to all

IMAGE: Many thanks to the University of Alabama-Huntsville for this image.

Could this be how Santa does it?

Special Christmas Eve Artdog Image of Interest 

Does Santa have a special helper, Who makes sure he gets to all the children? You decide!

IMAGE: Many thanks to Fansided, for this image. It accompanies an article about this year’s Dr. Who Christmas show.

Get drunk, light a fire, and eat dumplings or fruit! it’s Winter Solstice!

It’s the nadir of the year. The longest night, the shortest day. What’re you gonna do?

What else? Have a party!

That’s apparently been the Winter Solstice solution of choice for cultures all over the Northern Hemisphere since at least Neolithic times.

The famous triple-spiral design incised inside the Newgrange tomb, popularly thought to be Celtic, actually predates the Celts by several thousand years. It bears a striking resemblance to sun symbols seen elsewhere in northern Europe. The opening of the tomb precisely frames the rising sun of Winter Solstice.

Humans have undoubtedly been aware of the Winter Solstice for much longer than 5,000 years, but some of the earliest evidence that they took it seriously can be found at Newgrange, Ireland, where a Neolithic passage tomb that is thought to be at least 5,000 years old is aligned with the rising Winter Solstice sun.

I can’t find any archaeological evidence that those early Irish folk had alcoholic beverages, but it’s fairly likely. Fermentation is a process that happens naturally. Pottery jars discovered at Jiahu in China, that date back as early as 7000 BCE (about 9,000 years old) were found to contain the residue of a fermented beverage made from honey, rice, and hawthorn fruit, so it’s not hard to imagine that other people may also have created fermented drinks, but stored them in less long-lasting containers.

Patrick E. McGovern discovered that these 9,000-year-old pottery jars from Jiahu in China contained the world’s earliest known fermented drink.

Those are two of the four essential ingredients for a universally human Winter Solstice celebration: (1) knowledge that the Winter Solstice is a thing that happens, and (2) alcoholic beverages to drink. The other two are (3) Food for feasting, and (4) fires for warmth and light.

Maria Kvilhaug offers a detailed description of Old Norse Jól, or Yule traditions and cosmology. “The Yule celebration as a whole was often referred to as “drinking jól”, as in “to drink” yule. This descriptive term strongly suggests that drink was an important part of the celebration,” she wrote.

Greek Poseidon (left) and Roman Saturn (right) each were honored by their devotees with several days of drinking and feasting at the Winter Solstice.

The Norse weren’t the only ones who partied hearty on Winter Solstice. The ancient Greeks celebrated the Festival of Poseidon, god of the sea, with several days of drinking and parties. Perhaps better known these days is the Roman Saturnalia, celebrating a different god, but at the same time of year, and in pretty much exactly the same way–with feasting and lots of drinking.

In eastern Asia, the Winter Solstice festival of Dōngzhì focuses more on food than drink, with dumplings served more often in the north and dumpling-like filled rice balls called tangyuan served more often in the south.

Dōngzhì delicacies seem to focus on rice flour wrapped around assorted fillings. The main point: they are all warm and tasty.

The Iranian tradition of Yaldā Night also centers on food, especially red-colored fruits, and sweets. It is a gathering of family and friends to share the last fruits of summer and prepare for the leaner period of winter. The gathering continues until after midnight, the middle part of the year’s longest night, thus seeing themselves through an inauspicious time into a more hopeful period. Another traditional practice is reading or reciting poetry (especially the poetry of Divan-e-Hafez, sometimes used for divination of the future).

Hafez poetry and fruits help carry this Persian lady safely through Yaldā Night.

The fourth ingredient for a quintessential Winter Solstice celebration–especially one in the colder parts of the Northern Hemisphere–is a good, warm bonfire to light up the night and keep bad spirits at bay.

Most of us know about the Yule Log, which was adopted as a Christmas tradition throughout much of northern Europe. This is a large log, sometimes a whole tree, burnt through the course of the Yule season. If there was anything left, it sometimes would be kept to light the following year’s log. 

Large outdoor bonfires were often a feature of Yule, Beltane, midsummer and Halloween, in pre-Christian traditions. More recent festivals have combined the bonfire idea with the even more widespread and popular tradition of the Christmas Tree. After Christmas old, dried-up trees from many households (fire hazards, by that time) are sometimes brought together and burned in a public event.

San Francisco’s Richmond-area “Friends of the Rootless Forest” safely burn discarded Christmas trees on Ocean Beach for their annual “Post-Yule Pyre” event.

IMAGES: 

Many thanks to Knowth.com for the Newgrange tomb image (from a book by Michael and Claire O’Kelly; I couldn’t find a photographer’s credit). 

Many thanks to Patrick E. McGovern, the biomolecular archaeologist who did the analysis of the Jiahu pottery, for both the photo (thanks also to Z. Juzhong and the Henan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology), and for an interesting article about the find.

Many thanks to Gods and Monsters for the image of Poseidon (there’s an informative article at this link, too), and to Antiques.com for the photo of the Carthaginian marble statue of Saturn and the accompanying article about it.

I am indebted to Your Chinese Astrology for the photos of traditional Dōngzhì foods, and the informative article that accompanies them. 

Many thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the photo of the Persian lady reading Hafez while surrounded by fruits on Yalda Night. 

And finally, many thanks to the Richmond District Blog for the bonfire photo by “ampoda” (sorry no link available), and the article about the 2012 event by Sara B

How do we choose the gifts we give?

The Artdog Quote of the Week

We can never give as much as a person can imagine, in material terms. That’s because (to borrow a line from Han Solo) everyone “can imagine quite a lot,” but we mere mortals are finite beings with finite resources, no matter what we might wish to give.

Of course, if the recipient can be expected only to calculate material value, we are talking about a very shallow soul, indeed. I hope you don’t have too many of those on your list (if you do, perhaps you should consider a few life-changes in the New Year?).

For most of us, giving gifts out of obligation, perhaps, but we hope also with love or at least respect, the key is thinking our way through to finding a personalized expression of our understanding of that person. That is rarely easy, and the effort should be valued far more greatly than we usually do.

If you’re still on the quest for those perfect gifts, I wish you good hunting.

IMAGE: Many thanks to PeaceFlash, via QuotesGram.