Christmas Letters to Alex- 360 trees

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Here in Austin, folks like to decorate the trees on the side of Capital of Texas Highway. It’s a pretty cool tradition. I’ve decorated trees a few times. Some folks decorate them for causes. Some for rememberance. Most decorate for fun. We will do it at least once. Promise. 

Just remember to take your “tree” down after Ephinay. Don’t mess with Texas. 

Christmas Letters to Alex- Joy to the World

This letter is a little tricky. It relies on a video, which may or may not still work years down the road. So if the video doesn’t pop up, go do a search for USAF Band holiday flash mob.

Go. I’ll wait. Find it? Good. Pick the first one at the Smithsonian. Watch.

Watch the faces in the crowd. See the confusion turn to delight as the music builds. See the joy. Watch them enjoy the gift of the music.

The best gifts are given freely, with no expectation that there’s anything given back but delight. Do your best to go through life giving with an open heart. Give for the fun of seeing that ear splitting smile. Give because it’s fun. Give because you can.

Give from the heart, share the joy.

–Love, Aunt Clara

Christmas Letters to Alex- That damn hippo song

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The hippo song. Specifically, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”. One of the great novelty songs ever. By the time you’re old enough to read this, hopefully the Hippo song prompts a goofy grin. Ideally, your mom yells at us both as we sing it together, top of our lungs, and terribly off key. It’s one of my favorite Christmas songs ever, and one of the few songs I’ll sing out loud. I expect that your mom will send more than a few eye rolls heavenwards as we try to prompt a reaction. Remind me to tell you about my Mom and Dog Jingle Bells one day. 

I adore this song because it’s so much about the things I love this time of year. It’s about believing in impossible things and never losing hope. You have to be able to believe in the impossible. Otherwise you can’t ever reach for big things in your life. 

Don’t be afraid to believe. Don’t be afraid to reach. Things won’t always work out. It can hurt an awful lot when it doesn’t. But that moment where that impossible thing happens- that’s magic. It’s so amazing, and so worth fighting for.  

So every Christmas, you and me are gonna clean out the garage, and get ready for hippo massages. Because I will always believe in the impossible. 

Besides, mom will love you for cleaning the garage. Trust me. 

–Love Aunt Clara

(PS- still waiting on that hippopotamus. Because only a hippopotamus will do.)

Christmas Letters to Alex- Santa Baby

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Your mom and dad are out tonight, and the two of us are hanging out. I gotta be honest kiddo, you are being a royal pain.You’ve fussed at your folks all week. To be fair, growing up is hard. There’s all kinds of things that happen along the way. Right now it’s small stuff like your aunt refusing to let you hit her with the ducky in the bathtub. Tomorrow it will be girls (or guys, no judgment). Next week it will be mortgage payments. 

Stop growing so fast will ya?

These big things will all arrive in due time. Sometimes you just gotta enjoy the moments. Like the twinkly lights on the tree. Or snuggles with mom and dad. Pro tip- they never stop wanting to snuggle you. They may act like it. But I promise that when you’re 40, and visiting them for the holidays, they will crack the door while you’re asleep just to check on you. It’s a parent thing. They never outgrow it. 

It’s time for you to be in bed. Tonight’s musical selection- Santa Baby. 

Santa baby…slip a sleeping baby under the tree for me…been an awfully good Aunt…Santa baby…so hurry up and go right to sleep. 

Sweet dreams Alex. 

Christmas Letters to Alex- The Walnut

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It’s nothing impressive on face. It’s a walnut, dipped in pink paint, and covered in glitter. As ornaments go, it’s pretty boring. 

Until you realize that the walnut in question is 65 years old. My dad made it when he was a boy. It decorated his family tree for years. Then it decorated our family tree in Colorado. When unmoved out, it followed me as I traveled the country. 

It’s a living link to family history. It’s a connection to decades of family stories, family gatherings, and moments of joy. It’s a little guardian, watching over me as I build new memories every year. That’s one of the things I love about this time of year. You get to remember the things that happened, good and bad. You can take inventory, and learn from those moments in the past. Time eases edges, and lessens pain. Soon you find more joy in those memories. 

Don’t be afraid to remember the past, to honor it, and to let go of the edges that hurt. 

Find the joy. 

Christmas Letters to Alex- the beginning

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Dear Alex,

You’re 8 months old, and the light of your parents lives. I’m sure by now that you’re tired of hearing how much you are loved and wanted. Tough. You’ll spend a lifetime hearing it, and hopefully never have to understand why it was such a miracle that you finally made it into the world. You’re adored kiddo. Tough. 

As your read these, you’re a man now, maybe with kids of your own. Laughing at the kitschy letters from “Aunt Clara” with your kids. But I’d be remiss if I did t at least touch on the chaos of the world in 2016. Dumpster fire is a good analogy. For an awful lot of folks the world is scary, the future uncertain. That makes a perfect kick off to these letters. 

Because for me, Christmas has only had loose attachment to religion. It’s always been more about faith and hope. The fact that it’s a holiday celebrating the birth of another special baby- eh that’s just a bonus for a wordsmith with a schmaltzy streak. 
I’ll hopefully share some of my favorite holiday traditions, and stories that matter to me. It’s my gift to you, in your first year on this planet. Someday down the road, I hope these words will give you a push when you need it, and a kick in the tail when you really need it. 

Because the greatest gift of all is always hope. 
–Love, Aunt Clara 

Fall in the South

Texas isn’t technically the South, but it’s close enough in some ways. This part of the country doesn’t get the nice shifts in weather. You don’t pull out the heavy jackets, or worry too much that your plants may freeze overnight. The changes are subtle. You have to look for them.

It’s a gentle drop in temperature. You go from being in the fire, back to frying pan, and then if you’re lucky, it actually drops into reasonable person temperatures. Some folks start using the fire place of an evening, and you get the gentle smell of woodsmoke.

You can spot newcomers. They carve Halloween pumpkins weeks in advance. They are rotten within a few days. The pros use fake pumpkins and stick those outside for Halloween enjoyment.

Leaves barely shift for weeks on end. You hunt for any sign of color shift. You’ve got to be on your toes. You’ll get just a few days of color, then woosh, all the leaves will be gone in a few days.

Pumpkin spice lattes are consumed while wearing a long sleeved shirt and shorts.

Temperatures in the 60s prompt thoughts of heavy sweatshirts, which are discarded as the morning chill burns off and temperatures climb back into the 80s.

Eventually patience is rewarded. You get your changing leaves, and if you’re lucky, you get a few days where you need to wear that sweatshirt all day. Winter looms, and Indian Summer is just a flash over the weekend. Blink and you can miss it.

Those who don’t look for fall, who just expect it to drop in their laps like it does up North miss it. Those who keep a sharp eye out, they get all the wonders of the season. It helps to look for the moments you want, rather than waiting for them to just show up.

Diversity on my mind

Diversity and acceptance is on my mind a good bit these days. In the middle of one of the most contentious elections in recent memory, diversity and inclusiveness is a big component of deciding who to vote for. Listening to the radio today, there was a quote that caught my attention. Diversity isn’t just about including what you believe, it’s about including what others believe. Good and bad.

The power in the American Experiment comes not from pushing groups out, but from working to find ways to blend those opinions into a cohesive agreement. When you read about the actual Constitutional Convention, it’s quickly clear that there were MAJOR disagreements about what the direction for the government should be. While we wouldn’t consider the group diverse today, at the time, you can safely say the opinions were very diverse.¬†¬†There were delegates who attended the convention who ended up not signing the final document. Heck, the whole state of Rhode Island refused to send delegates. There was no magical 100% agreement. The Bill of Rights was an add on, and the negotiations on slavery lead to a war less than 100 years later.

The Constitution was and is about compromise. It was about understanding that everyone can’t get what they want right this second. Sometimes you have to build things out over time in order to get a functioning society.

We’ve forgotten this lesson today. People insist that their way is right, and damn anyone else. Anything short of perfection is unacceptable. You’re Catholic and anti-abortion? You are obviously a horrible human being, even though you are pushing hard for social welfare changes, universal health care, and are working as a public defender. You’re transgender? You’re an abomination, it doesn’t matter that you volunteer at a soup kitchen, donate 20% of your income to your church, and that you vote conservative on a variety of issues. We get so focused on purity of purpose, we forget that the middle ground is where compromise begins.

You can learn a ton from people who don’t think the way you do. I learn daily from a friend in Missouri who’s struggling to build a small business. I learn a ton about discrimination from friends who are white, who are struggling with how to raise black children they’ve adopted. I learn about parenting from watching friends as they try to balance their morals and ethics with the changing world that allows kids to access things using tech in ways we’ve never seen. I learn from public defenders as they rant about the way the system is stacked against their clients. (As an aside, all the PDs I’m friends with are Republicans. Chew on that a bit).

I’ll never agree fully with some of my friends on the Israel/Palestine issue. I won’t agree with friends who insist that you can’t be part of organized religion and still be a good, non judgmental person. I’ll struggle with how to find balance between religious belief and public interactions. I’ll struggle with how we balance law and order with racial injustice.

And that’s the key. I’ll struggle. I won’t assume that there’s an easy answer. Because I know too many good people on both sides. I won’t say that friend X has more value than friend Y. I’ll be like the Founders and say, we need to find a compromise. It won’t always be a good one. But for true diversity to flourish, all sides need a chance to come to the table and work things out.

I will remember, and forget

On 9/11, the words reverberate across the internet.

“Never forget”.

We splash memes, personal memories, and pictures across social media, and for a moment come together an remember a moment that seems indelible. Who can forget where they were that day? Who doesn’t remember the fear, the horror, the gut clenching nausea? Who doesn’t feel that little tug of nostalgia, that desire to go back to a moment where we simultaneously felt pulled apart, yet pulled together? How could you ever forget that moment?

Stop and think a moment. Look hard at your memories. Drift back and try to feel for the sharp edges. Chances are, those edges aren’t as sharp. Time blunts memories for most of us. You don’t have the same knot in your stomach in year 15 that you had in year 2. The emotion fades from bright colors to muted tones. You remember lost friends, or near misses. The hurt isn’t quite the same. Time moves in one direction- forward. With that progression, year in and year out, you lose small pieces of those memories.

That’s how humans work. Our memories only hold so much detail, for so long. Time gradually erases the details. We can remember the dates, an the broad strokes, but the details fade out. This is how life works. It’s a natural part of moving forward from any event. With time, the memories are relegated to a few. The rest of us are stuck with the words in history books and stories that were passed on.

You will forget the details. As memory goes, only the sharpest, clearest details will stand out in your mind. (Sitting on a bench outside a movie theater in Ottawa, tears dripping down my face. I can see that. I can’t see the movie I walked into as an attempt at distraction.) Your kids won’t remember at all. They weren’t old enough, and will only have your stories.

You will forget. That’s okay. You can let go of those moments. It doesn’t mean you don’t honor the moment, or those who were lost. You find a new way to remember. You remember by working to change the world, and make things better. You remember by sharing stories, and encouraging others to be good people. You remember the past by keeping lessons in mind, but still moving forward.

The world doesn’t stop spinning, and time never truly stands still. You will forget. It doesn’t mean you don’t remember.

 

 

Remembering

Today is National Suicide Awareness Day. It also marks the two year anniversary of the death of my cat Georgia. In one of those horrible cosmic twisty, timey-whimey moments, the two events overlap. My friend Brittany was the one to drive Georgia and I to the vet for that last visit. The following year, Brittany looked into the abyss and couldn’t walk away. The hurt was too much, and she killed herself.

Both losses were devastating in different ways. I miss both of them every day, and both of them have left lasting marks on my life. Two lessons are on my mind today.

  1. Don’t be afraid to love, full throttle, with both arms wrapped around that love. It doesn’t matter if it’s animal or human. Love hard, and love without the fear of being hurt. It’s amazingly worth it.
  2. Never be afraid to let someone know how much they mean to you. I made sure to tell Brittany how much I valued her friendship and presence in my life regularly. Suicide is complicated, and the reasons why someone decides to end things are varied. Once the decision is made, those around the suicide victim live with the lingering questions, the what ifs. I am eternally glad that my what if’s with Britt don’t include wondering if she knew that I loved her. In that moment, she may have not seen it, but I know I did everything I could to make sure she knew. That’s all I can do and I did my best.

Life isn’t lived in memes, tweets, or soundbites. Its a heck of a lot messier and harder on all of us. Don’t be afraid to get messy along the way.