Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's December 23rd...

Is this morning of the eve of christmas eve? I wait all year for Christmas Eve. Yes, that’s right Christmas Eve. Christmas eve is filled with so much tradition in our family--almost more than Christmas day. A big family dinner is part of this tradition. My grandparents were Lutherans from Czechoslavakia and many of these traditions and recipes have been a part of the Czech-Lutheran tradition, literally, for hundreds of years. The dinner starts with the reading of the Christmas story from the book of Luke along with other scriptures and then after scripture we have family communion. In our communion we use a special large communion wafer (oplatki) that has the nativity imprinted on it. Then after scriptures, communion, and prayer—Dinner! The food we eat on Christmas eve has been in our family tradition for hundreds of years…and the main course is…haluska. Haluska is a homemade potato dumplings served with cottage cheese and small pieces of pork salt for flavor. Some people serve haluska with poppy seed. My sister Faith is the only one left in our family who likes poppy seed. For the rest of us the cottage cheese/pork salt version is the fav. We use the pork salt although the original recipe would not have, because they were fasting meat until midnight of Christmas eve in observance of Advent. Aside from the haluska we have sauerkraut and mushroom soup. Yes, you heard it right. In fact, yesterday I overnighted the imported European mushrooms to my two sisters in Ohio. Here in sunny Florida, a long ways from the place where this all began, I'm about to start soaking the imported European mushrooms today and will begin cooking the soup tonight. that's kinda my task. I start cooking early because the longer you cook sauerkraut the milder and sweeter it gets. i think i've gotten the recipe pretty close to my grandmothers--or at least how i remember it. Now here’s where things go sauer…along with the traditional Valo family foods we always have ham and baked beans… because the people who have married into the family need something to eat too. I must admit that our traditional food is probably an acquired taste but after all these years, it brings our family together. That’s what I love about holiday traditions. No matter where our life’s journey has taken us to, at least for a moment, it seems that tradition brings us back together. And for my sisters who I’ll not be with on Christmas Eve because of distance, maybe we’ll still draw near in heart, even for a moment, by celebrating these traditions wherever we are. Well, that’s our Christmas eve tradtion. Do you have one, If so, what’s yours?
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Christmas Memories

Christmas Memories

Christmas has ALWAYS been my favorite time of the year. Growing up in the north it seemed that Christmas was especially enchanting. Shopping in our downtown was wonderful. Snow lined streets, people dressed up in festive winter sweaters, Christmas lights glowing from behind mounds of snow. A large evergreen in the town square where children from various schools would carol providing that crowning touch of Christmas ambience. I can hear them laughing and singing in pages of my mind, "City side walks, busy side walks, dressed in holiday style. In the air....." you get the idea. A lifetime of special moments just like those written in story books.

I moved to Florida in March of 1985. Spring and summer passed, soon fall was upon us and Christmas decorations began to appear everywhere. However, something seemed to be awry. The chill in the air that seemed to set the stage for the entire holiday drama never arrived. Instead a sub-tropical heat wave hit, forcing me to exchange my festive sweaters for a "Santa tank top." Oh yes, there were Christmas lights... but twinkle lights on palm trees almost seemed perverse. Now those Christmas carols that once rang from the mouths of rosy cheeked children seemed awful coming from a battery powered musical sand dollar. How miserable! Each new day added to the resentment I felt toward this awful charade of Christmas. This was not Christmas as I remembered it. I finally resolved that I would not celebrate in this land. I would wait until I could return home to the land of enchantment where Christmas joys abounded.

Soon my new acquaintances in Florida began to sense my cynicism toward the holiday that I once loved most. One night I was reciting my Christmas discontent when someone offered insight that would forever change my life. They started by saying that the reason I resented these Florida holiday traditions was because they were not the traditions I remembered. They went on to say that in order for me to find any joy I would need to make new memories. Oh my, what a thought.

Unbeknownst to me or my Christmas counselor, two other aquaintances left the crowd and to plan an elfish scheme. When I got home that evening, awaiting me at my door I found a beautiful, freshly cut, three foot evergreen tree. Fixed to the top was a bright red bow and a note: “We love you and want you to share Christmas with us! – from, Your new friends in Florida.” At that moment I sat down on the porch stoop and tears that came to my eyes seem to bring a clarity that I had quietly encountered my first new Florida Christmas memory. Within moments I called the Christmas culprits and told them that since I was going to have to now decorate a tree that they would have to come and help me (make more memories.) Within a short time my small apartment was filled with people, Christmas music and the making of new memories. Now, over twenty years later, early in each December, those friends and a score of others gather with me to continue the memories begun on that hot December night.

My advice to you during this holiday season is to remember your old friends and dare to make some memories with some new ones. Don’t let this Christmas season pass without making some great memories because today counts.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Nonwords. They crack me up. It also cracks me up that people will debate with you that they are real words. Words like irregardless, annoyment and orientated. These are nonwords. I heard someone use the term “conversated” the other day. Not a word, people. Debone. Unravel. Nonword, nonword. Why use these when there are so many real words?

I love words. They are my favorite connection to other people. I can use them to explain, to describe, to entertain, to warn, remind, or argue. And define. I love to search for just the right word, with the perfect nuance of meaning, to insure that I portray exactly what I want another person to feel or believe. Wanting to be understood compels me to carefully choose from the 40,000 or so words that I am told make up the average American’s vocabulary.

The use of words is part and parcel to being human. The spoken word predates any other kind of communication by thousands of years. Before there was a book, or a painted canvas, words conveyed what someone else saw or heard or knew. Try to think of what the world would be like without words. It’s unimaginable. Even those who are unable to speak, use sign language “words”.

Words are all around us. They bombard us from television screens and radios. In restaurants, movie theaters, in the work place, on the street corner, everywhere, it seems like everyone is hurling some of those 40,000 words at you. For all kinds of reasons. Some are beneficial to us. They are meant to inform or help. Some are hurtful. They criticize or denigrate or mock. Some are neither, they’re just extraneous noise.

About now, you’re probably thinking, yeah, yeah. I get it. There are a lot of words in the world. What’s my point? It is this: Words are powerful and words are important. Words do not just define other words. How I use words can define me. My use of words can tell people much about me and my preferences, my outlook, my character. What I say can let people know how much they have affected my life. How much I appreciate, admire and love them. Or I can use words to hide all of that. I can hide that you have been instrumental in making me a better person. I can mask that I wouldn’t have made it without your friendship. I can conceal that you mean an awful lot to me.

What have you not said that you need to say? What words do you use to hide that you are hurting, or confused, or sad? Let’s choose the right words. Let’s say what needs to be said today because today counts.

Friday, May 1, 2009

You Sound So Convinced...It Must Be True!

I meet people all the time who are so passionate about convincing others of their perspectives in life. It seems to me that the older I get that I am "certain" about fewer things. I think I'm better now about taking my time to form positions on stuff. In fact, I often say "I'm observing that"...because I know that once I personally become convinced about something I almost never change. So, I guess here you will find some of my observations and some of the things of which I've become convinced. I'll do my best not to abuse either.

I don't know if I have much to say because I talk all the time. Is there anything left? Well, only time will tell. And you get to observe or become convinced of that.