I should be writing a holiday letter.
But – would you just take a look outside for a moment? The sun has broken through the clouds and is streaming in the front room window. The three inches of fresh snow we got overnight has brightened up the whole world, and now the settling flakes are sparkling diamonds as they drift off the trees. I actually remembered to fill the birdfeeders yesterday (and am now just remembering to add sunflower seed to my shopping list) – consider it my Christmas gift to the wildlife – so now the feeders hanging just inches away from the picture window are being swarmed by a flock of chickadees and finches quibbling over who gets the next go.
Oops, now the teakettle is screaming for me to make some hot chocolate. With a candy cane dunked in, of course. And the loaves of Hawaiian bread that has been rising in the warming drawer are now ready for the oven. Does anybody even remember how or why Grandma Jean started the tradition of Hawaiian bread and ham for Brewster Christmas? Who around here eats something as exotic as Hawaiian bread, anyway?
I’d sit down at the piano and plunk out a few holiday carols for you, but the dry winter has suddenly wreaked havoc with the tuning and even I can’t fight my way through that. Probably just as well – hasn’t been much time for practicing piano, what with the hours I spend at work or torturing my French horn and alto recorder at various rehearsals/church services. At least here I can blame all the wrong notes on badly tuned strings, right?
The hush of the snow and the frenetic energy of the birds only make me more grateful for the blessing of a day to just sit still and watch. It hasn’t been a year for much stillness or watching, and it always seems that a little doing always leads to more that must be done. I’m closing in on my second full year as department head and four years working for the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension office in Oneida County. It’s a small thing in the bigger scope of the world – a tiny department within a tiny county in a tiny part of rural America – but it is a huge blessing to have challenging, engaging work that so resembles the mission and passion of the Peace Corps and other international work right here, so close that I can live at home (and afford to live here). This year we added a third new educator to our staff, after hiring the second educator at the end of 2012 – it has been an incredible joy to watch them each grow in their roles working with youth and community/economic development respectively as I continue focusing my work with families. I’m looking forward to 2014 as we begin to bring our common threads together in community education work that demonstrates the connections between all of these areas and how necessary they are to creating strong communities as a whole.
I could go on for hours about the challenges rural America faces. The demographics here speak it loud and clear - young people are leaving in droves, seeking education economic, and social opportunities in places that offer more diverse, and some would argue, attractive possibilities. I’d certainly be lying if I claimed I hadn’t felt the pull. After all, I think I have about as much right to miss Vietnamese, Indian and a multitude of other ethnic food, and the excitement and adventure of new places and new people as much as anybody.
But then – would you look at that! The light has changed again. Funny how the clouds have shifted and everything is suddenly backlit. The birds are suddenly gone for a moment and everything is silent again. Just take a breath of that fresh, clean air. They’ve made a fortune in bottling our clean water. It’s a wonder (and a relief) they haven’t figured out how to bottle and sell our air.
Well, if I were going to write a proper holiday letter, then I suppose I would be obliged (and thrilled!) to tell you about the major event of the year – 2013, the year I became a homeowner. But not just any old home; and not just the home that has this extraordinary southern exposure that soaks up the 8 hours of daylight all winter long and makes the Christmas cactus bloom on time (no thanks to me, who routinely forgets to water the poor thing). No, this home, the house my grandfather built after returning from a POW camp in Germany after WWII, is now the “Home Place.” I am humbled by the opportunity to place another generation’s roots in this house and to celebrate our history here in this small corner of the universe. And so, now with a new roof and a new couch in addition to the new stove (and the return of the refrigerator), I am slowly making more plans for making the Home Place my own home for as long as I work to be part of the solution of rural brain drain.
And, no holiday letter would be complete without a few photographs (which probably is all you’ll really pay attention to, anyway), and of course, my love for you and yours, and my hope for a very blessed new year in 2014. It saddens me to think of how many are struggling this year and will be into next: Jean, Terri, Chris, Nadean, Roger, Linda, Cindy, Nancy, and so many others struggling with diagnoses and life changes. But I’m also happy to celebrate numerous new beginnings all around me as well.
May all be well with you and those you hold close. May a year from now, on the precipice of 2015, find you with new, exciting stories to tell and great wisdom to share.
|Overlooking Bryce Canyon at the end of a Seattle - Olympic Peninsula - St. George, Utah vacation in February.|
|Breaking out the Vietnamese dress, "ao dai" to celebrate my cousin Mark's wedding to Becky Nguyen in Beverly Hills.|
|It was an absolute pleasure take my parents on a tour of California (Pacific Coast Highway to the redwoods to San Francisco) following the wedding in L.A.|
|The Brewster "Home Place," now in my name.|
The daily slog: “digital” was the word of the year at work. So was “office space” – or, lack thereof.