Monday, December 31, 2012

Some Things Never Change...

Happy Birthday to my best friend, my love, my husband and Happy New Year to all the rest of you!


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Solstice Gifts


The storms abated and we were treated to a calm, at times starlit Long Dance, though oddly not peaceful. The energy was definitely a little swirly and scattered. Perhaps that was a sign of the shift that may have occurred...who knows.

No matter, it was a fun night and now we're in the busy midst of Christmas preparations; packing, cleaning, baking, measuring out presents.

Heather was asking on her log a little while back what her readers did for presents. Shop local, mall, make, or not participate at all?

It got me thinking about how our family's Christmas gift tradition, or actually gift tradition in general has shaped up (though I didn't get around to actually answering in the comments, sorry Heather.)...

C. and I don't really much care for official celebrations, it seems. Once I got to thinking about it, I actually discovered that we're shockingly cavalier about gift-giving on special occasions. Neither of us really remembers exactly the dates of our first meeting, first kiss, or well, either of our two wedding anniversaries. We don't celebrate these dates, and definitely do not do anything romantic and teddybear packed on Valentine's day. We typically don't give gifts on birthdays and frankly, not that often on Christmas either.

However, that doesn't mean that we don't give each other gifts. We do. All the time.
When one of us goes off Island without the other, we typically bring home Thai-food take-out, something that 's a real treat out here. We get each other things from the Dump, the thrift store, the woods. In fact, now that I think about it, rarely a couple of weeks go by without one of us walking in through the door and saying "I got you a present!" Sometimes it's a grapefruit from the store, sometimes it's jewelry, or glue, or a cool stick, sometimes something big and ostentatious.

The point is, after a few years of marriage I feel hardly any pressure around this otherwise pressure-filled season to get my husband the gift that really makes it clear how much I love him.

Which is great, because frankly, I find the gift-giving emphasis of this season utterly out of control and perverted by consumerist culture. I think we all know the ins and outs of it all too well: "If you love your family you'll want to give them the perfect celebration." That means gifts, perfect food, perfectly fun family time.

And of course we all know the many ironies of feeling like love equals stuff. How most of us already have plenty of things, homes stuffed full in fact, yet we feel obligated to add to that during this celebration. Frankly, if I receive one more well-meaning knick-knack, I might just scream, if it wasn't considered a kind of a faux pas in polite society.
This season though, the few gifts we've received have been great, perfect, in fact.  They're just what we wanted and what we're giving to others. Our friends gave us (and I imagined many other friends) homemade granola (and a candy cane; ). My secret Solstice gift was some home mixed tea and an infuser.
Food is an awesome gift. Everyone eats food and something like granola is easy to make in big batches and most people have their own special recipe, so even if the person you're gifting it to makes their own, it's not going to be the same. Like our friend's granola, turns out, is way better than mine. Such a good gift. Spiced vinegars, roasted nuts, or pumpkin seeds, dried berries, jams, elixirs, ketchup, mustard, teas, spices...the list of foodstuffs you could gift is endless and I guarantee you that their recipients will be thrilled.
Handmade gifts are another sure hit, but a lot more work in some ways. It takes time to make a number of unique, beautiful hand-wrought things, but we make giftable foodstuffs often and it's not that much more of a bother to take the operation larger scale.  This year for instance, we made a bunch of mustard for gifts, along with spices and some other foodstuffs, which I shall not mention just in case some of the recipients happen to read this entry.
Another gift that I was frankly thrilled to bits about was that a friend got me a set of scraping spatulas. I've been bitching about losing my only one (which was a Solstice gift too) for months, but I only ever remember that I need them when I need them, not when I'm in the store. It's a really simple every day thing that I could have bought for myself, but it made me so happy that my friend remembered that was what I needed and got them for me. I've been saying for a while that really the only things I need are super simple things like a good whisk, or hair ties and wouldn't it be nice if whoever felt like they had to get me present got me one of those things? Then I got my spatulas. Perfect gift? Yes.

Speaking of perfect gifts though, we did end up giving each other Solstice presents this year and they were both handmade and super special. At the behest of our carver friend, I made C. a pouch to keep a Tlingit chief's Raven rattle he carved in. No biggie right? Well except that I made it out of a deer hide I tanned with my own two hands this summer, lined it with scraps of a Pendleton blanket and added some Sami-style felt accents.
So naturally, after I presented C. with this pouch, he felt compelled to make me something special. Having no gift exchange tradition, I didn't really expect that, so I lo and behold if I wasn't just as surprised when he gifted me with this little medicine pouch the next day. It's also made from brain-tanned buckskin and has a little accent of red felt and an antler button.
While this years presents have been perfect and plentiful, I'd be just as happy without any, so long as I'm surrounded by people who give their love freely. So if you're feeling any last minute gift pressure, just remember that gifts are sweet, but nice words and hugs are sweeter.

Merry Christmas Everyone! Hauskaa Joulua! All my love!

Ps. Finnish Christmas is tomorrow and we'll be celebrating with my family here and then we'll be off for our celebration with C.'s family, so I'll see you on the other side.
Pps. Don't forget to get in on your Solstice gift giveaway. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Solstice, Cosmic Shift and Planetary Alignment

...also known as "I really don't think there's going to be a zombie apocalypse, the Universal Gong will ring, or any some such", but let's have fun! Even if I'm spending all night outdoors in drizzling rain.
Wearing elaborate costumes...and dancing naked...
If this weather holds, I may yet begin to believe in the End Times being nigh. Rain, sleet, snow-capped foothills, hale storm after hail storm riding over our heads. Dark, foreboding cloud formations, sickly yellow sunset predicting more storms...

Come what may, tonight we circle up around our fire, relit from friction and magic and open ourselves, to community, our loved ones far from here and any potential shift in consciousness that may occur. Certainly if enough people believe it will, then perhaps it will. That's how magic works, right?
IMG_2677 IMG_2720
As for the weather, that's what makes it special though, being exposed to the elements, at their mercy, surrounded by love and darkness and mystery.
I will bring you into our circle friends, and have you in my thoughts.
IMG_2727 IMG_2736

Happy Solstice to you and yours, to the heron people, the seal people, the cat people, to one and all!
IMG_2746 IMG_2817 IMG_2769 
And when we wake up tomorrow morning (or stumble home to bed, as the case may be), we may find the world outside unmoved, the same, but there will be a subtle change in our attitudes and the air.
The dark days are over! Rejoice, winter may just be beginning in these low latitudes, but the days, they will be getting longer!
IMG_2756 IMG_2757
I'd love to hear how your family celebrates the longest night of the year, if you do?

Oh, and in the spirit of Solstice giving, everyone who comments automatically enters into (unless you expressly state you don't want to) a giveaway to get a copy of the latest issue of my favorite Island zine Soapbox. This issue is called The Last Issue and features funny, heartfelt, epic tales/poems/writings/drawings about the potential end of the world. Including a couple from yours truly.

Ps. Thank you for all your  insightful comments on my last post. I have replied to each of them individually. As always the comments are a great read, eclipsing my post. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Power Of One

"You're so well-adjusted for an only child."

"You're an only child? So you like got whatever you wanted as a kid, right?"

"I would never (Editor's note:  be wary of people who use this phrase. They're usually both sanctimonious and self-righteous.) want to raise an only child. I wouldn't want my child to be a brat."

"Only children are usually really selfish people. I mean, you're not that selfish."

"It must have been so lonely to be an only child. It's so much harder for them to make friends."

The above statements and many like them, are just a few from a vast pool of casual conversations I've had about my up-bringing with friends and neighbors of varying degrees of closeness. The weirdest part about these comments (other than how rude people can be without meaning to be!) is that those who said them, seem to believe that they draw from some universally accepted pool of tried and true wisdom on only children. That somehow my being raised without siblings naturally makes me a certain way.

I actually believe that to be somewhat true. Just not in the way they do.

A while back Mary of Terralectualism posted about Susan Caine's TED talk on the virtues of introverts, and many of our dearest bloggy friends chimed in, delighted with many of Caine's points. I did too, though with some hesitation. (Not because I don't think introverts are awesome! Just to clarify.)


I'm definitely not an introvert by many conventional measures; I talk to strangers easily, have little trouble speaking publicly (so long as I feel know what I'm talking about), as far as talking goes, in fact, I'm one of those people who talks incessantly and is very interested in listening to (and asking lots of questions from) other people. However, (though I've not read her book) many of Caine's points resonated with me. At the time couldn't quite put my finger on it. How did I, someone who's always self-identified as an extroverted person, recognize in myself so many characteristics described by this patron saint of introverts?


A few months later though,  I had a conversation with my milking partner Heather that suddenly made all the pieces click together for me. Heather is also an only child. We were discussing life in a small communities and I mentioned that I often struggle with the constant social activity that knowing everyone anywhere you go inevitably brings about. How at the end of the day at work, where I get to visit with tons of friends and community members, the last thing I want to do is to go to a party, or a dance, or some other social event. How I don't feel like I get to spend enough time by myself.

My friend came back. I've seen her a number of times now on my walks. I wonder if she ever feels lonely by herself? I kinda doubt it. 

"Of course you don't!" Heather exclaimed (she's not necessarily someone I'd call an introvert either;) "You're an only child. We need a lot of time to ourselves." She said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world. And it is. But it hadn't ever really occurred to me that the seemingly disparate sides of my personality had something to do with my upbringing.

The more I thought about it, the more sense it made.

Unlike many siblings (as in people who have, and are siblings to, at least one other person) I know, I don't charge my batteries, or relax in group activities, but rather have my energies depleted by them. This doesn't mean that I don't enjoy them, it just means that no matter how much fun I'm having, after a party, a gathering or any other social activity, I need a lot of time just by myself to recuperate from it.  Typically too, in any group larger than five or so people, I prefer observing to active participation.

I'd also just as rather stay at home with a book than go to an event. In fact in my teens and early twenties, I used go to parties then, after a couple of hours when I grew tired, retreat to the upstairs bathroom, closet, basement, or porch to read until my friends, or date were ready to leave.
I've actually deduced that my love of reading is two-fold: first came the magic of words, but it was re-enforced by the fact that a person reading is usually left to do so in peace. A book is taken as a dis-invitation to engage its reader in conversation. When I still lived in shared apartments in large cities, constantly surrounded by literally millions of people, a book was like a square foot of private space around me, a territory no one else could venture into, even if they were pressing right up against me in the Tube.

It's not that I don't enjoy new adventures, meeting new people, or having "fun". I do. It's just that often my need to be alone triumphs over experiencing those things.

Having spent so much time by myself as a kid, either physically, or with grown-ups in the room but otherwise engaged, I've grown used to needing to be alone with my thoughts, entertain myself, or as Heather puts it "just stare into space". It is almost a physical need, the way being touched can be too; where if it doesn't get fulfilled for a long time, an imbalance is created in I become ill somehow, either emotionally, or physically.

I prefer people one on one, am intensely private about certain personal things, have a strange love of keeping secrets, prefer group activities involving an agenda (such as dancing, crafting or learning, or politics or ceremony) rather than idle hanging out, I'm very self-sufficient and often find myself drawn to the company of other only children.

I'm never bored by myself. I never feel lonely by myself. In contrast, I sometimes feel lonely and bored in large groups of people.
While these traits may be unique to my experience as an only child, particular to my circumstances, I've had most of them affirmed by my other "only"-friends in the many conversations spurred by my epiphany.

As for the myth of only children being strong, demanding personalities, I've often found the opposite to be true.

Many only children are actually pretty good compromisers, just as likely to adopt the middle-way than try to force their own will on others; a trait that I attribute both to not having a posse (or even just one) of other siblings who'll be there no matter what, as well as having your main sparring partner in childhood be an adult.
More often than not, they're also very sensitive to other people's non-verbal communication, good at assessing a given situation and able to see both sides of an argument, something that I think must stem from observing complex, "grown-up" situations from a young age.

This exposure to adult behavior can also make them assertive in the manner that siblings may not be, because they are imitating their parent(s) reaction to a given situation, but this doesn't automatically mean that they're going to grow up to be demanding attention hogs.

In my experience though, it is just as often those who do come from families of siblings that want to dominate a given social situation, or are demanding and inflexible. I also find that they're just as likely, if not more so to need the attention of the crowd to be on them. One could argue that on some level, siblings are used to compete with others to get heard, while only children usually have no trouble of getting undivided attention.

I was a pretty lonely child, but I actually think it had just as much to do with our lifestyle and family dynamics, as it did with my lack of siblings. As more or less, the only weird hippie-family in town, it wasn't exactly easy for me to bond with other kids my age. For one thing, I didn't really meet many, and for another, by the time I started to pre-school, I was pretty precocious and actually preferred the company of adults. Being not just an only child, but in a single parent family, I spent a lot of my time with other adults in places that adults went to, like work, gatherings with my mom's, or even my grandma's friends.

Frankly, I remember being confused over how children seemed...well, kinda dumb. They just wanted to run around and play games about TV shows and none them had had The Lord Of The Rings read out loud to them. Not exactly a great attitude for making pals. Through kindergarten to fifth grade I had very few friends (I had tons of fictional friends of course; ). Then in sixth grade things changed, it was as though everybody caught up. Instead of play we were suddenly having conversations and that I was good at. As we entered our tweens, being an oddball suddenly turned into an asset instead of a liability. (This was the 90s, after all.) After that I never really had trouble making friends.

In fact, the only problem I've had with friendships since childhood, is that while I love my friends and like to think that partly because my only child-characteristics, I am a good friend (I'm a good listener, I'm emphatic, I'm interested in other people...) when it comes to spending time with me, I'm also my own best friend. I instinctively choose time by myself over time with others and so, sadly, I can sometimes be a little neglectful of friends.
There's so much more to say on this topic and, of course, like Susan Caine (although she actually has science to back up her emotional argument ; ) I'm biased because of who I am, but this having been a big year of revelation about the topic for me, I wanted to hear other people's thoughts on it. So, tell me:

Are you an only child or one of many? Raising one, two, three, more?  Do you crave solitude or human interaction more?