Happy Easter!

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Happy Women’s Day, Ladies!

Find beauty within you and allow others to see it. Discover your worth, always treasure and respect yourselves. Love who you are, but never give up on self-improvement. Learn to accept and offer love and support, to others and to yourselves. Follow your dreams, but don’t dismiss reality. Live a life that is sincere celebration of your being and of those who improve your existence. Learn from your mistakes and treasure those lessons as painful, yet valuable steps towards a better place. Be glorious, be generous, be strong! Last, but not least, don’t forget to appreciate those wonderful men who enrich our lives!

Happy Women’s Day, ladies! Celebrate yourselves and let yourselves be celebrated!

Ghosts of Valentine’s Dates Past

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It’s not every day that a flower delivery guy almost throws a bouquet of roses at you, I thought to myself the day before yesterday. He had harassed me all day, calling like a maniac in order to find out when exactly I’d be home, so he could bring me the flowers – a Valentine’s Day bouquet which for some inexplicable reason was being delivered a couple of days early. As soon as I closed the door in the face of the man who was still expecting a tip in spite of his rudeness and almost offensive words, I got to enjoy the beautiful roses – in spite of the commercial fuck up, they were still the symbol of a loving gesture from a person so dear to me. I have long ago made my peace with the holiday dreaded by many, but I can’t deny that the incident brought back bittersweet memories of Valentine’s Days past.

I was thirteen or so when I survived the first “celebration” of the sort.
Continue reading “Ghosts of Valentine’s Dates Past”

Valentine’s Day, Again…

I was about to look for one of my favourite rose photos, as I do for every Valentine’s Day post. Then I remembered this display I saw last year on a street in Germany…

It was impossible to walk by and not notice it, it was just so…. so… too much. I wanted to laugh and whisper something snarky in my friend’s ear. Instead I mustered a serious look, as a pair of eyes was sizing me up, trying to determine whether I was a potential customer or not.
Continue reading “Valentine’s Day, Again…”

No Trendy Christmas Tree For Me, Santa (Part 2)

Part 1

Now I have my own ornaments and stories to go with them. I somehow managed to hold on to a box of four glass baubles I got at some point in middle school, while shopping for Christmas presents with my best friend at the time. I can just see the store and how we went in looking for something entirely different. I spent a hefty part of my savings on these ornaments and a similar set that I offered my grandmother that Christmas (one of the very few presents she actually liked). They’ve miraculously survived the years and journeys and they went on every tree I’ve had ever since, even when they didn’t match the general colour scheme. Continue reading “No Trendy Christmas Tree For Me, Santa (Part 2)”

No Trendy Christmas Tree For Me, Santa

She frowned and immediately dismissed the idea of a Christmas tree.

“I’ll get one when I can afford to decorate it properly,” she concluded, “not with all that cheap tacky stuff.”

Oh… I couldn’t help feeling my friend’s not at all veiled dig at me. So my Christmas tree was cheap… and tacky. Well, I could certainly give her “cheap”. Continue reading “No Trendy Christmas Tree For Me, Santa”

A Small December Gift

I’ll try to keep this one short and sweet. One more blogging year has passed, the good people from WP just reminded me. The fifth one… Well, this blog has certainly survived far longer than I thought it would, thanks to the wonderful community I’ve discovered here. Thank you for your support, for your input, for all the time you offered me this year… and thank you for sharing bits of your souls and inspiring thoughts with all of us! Continue reading “A Small December Gift”

Christmas Ghosts

Winter holidays are probably that time of year when ghosts of our past are most likely to come out and dig their dirty fingernails into wounds closed long ago, hoping to pry them open and make them bleed once more. And if there’s ever a chance for them to succeed…

Well, at least that’s what this time of year is like for me. So here I am, lights twinkling in the tree, Christmas songs playing… and I’m angry dancing in my fuzzy bathrobe and equally fuzzy slippers while brushing my teeth, late at night. Before you say it, no, I can’t blame this on too much mulled wine; that’s simply who I am. Continue reading “Christmas Ghosts”

Valentine’s Day…

 

“I want someone to laugh with me, someone to be grave with me, someone to please me and help my discrimination with his or her own remark, and at times, no doubt, to admire my acuteness and penetration.”

Robert Burns

Sometimes, it’s “Swan Lake” and dinner at a nice, romantic restaurant… sometimes, it’s beautiful red roses and phone calls, because everyday life doesn’t take a break for special occasions… and other times, it’s nothing but disappointment and frustration. Like many other socially branded times of celebration, the controversial Valentine’s Day will do that to us. Or… really… let’s be honest… we do that to ourselves.

It may not be my favourite holiday, but I’ve made peace with Valentine’s Day many years ago. Call me jaded, call me old, but I couldn’t have a meltdown because of it, even if I tried. And that’s mostly because I am who I am, I like what I like, and I honestly don’t care if those around me approve of it or not. I no longer try to adjust my expectations in order to fit their needs, nor do I feel guilty when I’m labelled as “spoilt” just because I want to be treated in a certain way. I get to choose who is close to me. We all do. We all should. Part of this choice is being aware that there are persons willing to offer me what I want, people who wish to make me feel special… people for whom I want to do the same.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again many times – celebrating a loved one, a relationship, showing them how important they are, can be so fulfilling. Perhaps some people are able to do that each and every day. Personally, I often drown in everyday nonsense and I generally need those pre-set occasions to shake everything up. I like thinking ahead, I look forward to birthdays, anniversaries and holidays and I have great fun getting and preparing all sorts of things for the ones I love, even months before any of these occasions. I once had two years’ worth of gifts for my mother, that should say it all. That’s also part of who I am, together with my expectations.

Yes, I like flowers – no heart shaped knickknacks, no cutsy teddy bears or other plush toys, no, thank you. It’s not that I need someone to buy them for me; I don’t mind getting them myself, if I need some cheering up. But I want somebody who cares enough to offer me flowers, just to make me smile, just because that’s what I like, and that’s important to them, even when it might not be their favourite activity. It’s about being offered what I want, not what somebody thinks I should want. I’ve learnt that such people exist. I’ve learnt that I’m also willing to compromise and make these people happy. These are the persons I want in my life, not the ones I need to change, not the ones who want to change me. They are the ones I think of when it comes to celebrating love.

Undeniably, I like the romantic side of the holiday. There’s something so adorable about watching a man get all dressed up for a date with me (even after being together for years), struggling to pick the right tie, the same way I struggle with choosing the perfect shoes. It’s fun to see him happy and elegant, impatiently waiting for a compliment, inevitably choosing to wear one of the ties and the cologne I gave him on some previous occasion. I know that at some point, he’s going to move his wrist just to make me notice he’s wearing my favourite watch as well. All these are small, irrelevant matters in the grand scheme of things. Yet it’s small, happy, fun moments together that make up the good part of life, the one that keeps one going through all the murky, unbearable times.

But this scenario is not always an option, and it’s nobody’s fault. It’s also not the end of the world when it doesn’t happen. As I’m listening to Bon Jovi, enjoying the red roses I received earlier and the delicious pralines I offered myself (first and foremost, I love myself), I’m thinking that a nice dose of realism is absolutely necessary on Valentine’s Day. A date on Valentine’s Day doesn’t guarantee love, nor does it reflect a person’s worth. Knowing what we need from others and from ourselves, seeing the value of who we are, celebrating it and those we love (be they a partner, a friend, a relative, the self) might be more important.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! Find a little something that gives you pleasure and treat yourselves to it… or share it with somebody important to you.

Merry Christmas!

merry-christmas

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”

(Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol)

Merry Christmas, everyone! 🙂

December Madness

 

I could see her grimace in the mirror. For a second, her hands stopped moving, brush in mid-air above my head.

“No, not in the afternoon… I can fit her in, no later than 12.”

Yes, they were closed on the 25th, she mentioned just before that.

“On the 24th around 5 or 6 would be more acceptable… mom needs to finish all the preparations before getting her hair done. It’s the day before Christmas, after all.” Continue reading “December Madness”

My Own, Personal Grinch

Come December, I see her photo pop up on my phone and I know we’re going to have the same conversation over and over again. Sometimes I don’t even answer, because I’m already too irritable to put up with the depressing rant. I’d rather be the one calling her, when I know I can take it and perhaps even help.

The hypocrisy! Those two hate and trash each-other all the time, and today they were hugging in the middle of the town! They were talking about the holidays and inquiring about each other’s families. As though anybody believes that act!

They only give presents to receive more expensive ones. They’re not fooling anyone.

Please… they only decorate their homes to show off and make everybody else feel miserable. Like we don’t know… Continue reading “My Own, Personal Grinch”

Cheeky Gift-Giving

I remember I wanted to crumple the piece of paper and throw it back into the hat. Instead I shoved it into my pocket and whispered something to the girl next to me. Her displeased face matched mine.

Anyone who’s done Secret Santa as a child knows how it can go from great to depressing in a second. Besides, we were too old for that, many of us protested. That might have been acceptable in middle school, but certainly not in high school…But there was no getting out of it, our form master decided it was a great activity that would bring us closer.

For me, all it represented was more salt on the wound, another reminder that my closest friends weren’t going to the same high school, another reminder that my current classmates were boring cowards, whereas my middle school ones were still mentioned in a whispered reverent tone. Thick as thieves we were, clever, with much above average results, and also unstoppable when it came to naughty, crazy pranks. The greatness we could have achieved, had we managed to stay together in high school… Continue reading “Cheeky Gift-Giving”

December Again…

I happen to like December and all its seasonal frenzy – well, most of it, anyway… December is also the month I started this blog. Pure coincidence 🙂 . Four years ago, I was trying to self-publish Parallel Lives around Christmas time and in my mind, getting the blog set up for it was a must.

You know how it goes, the best-laid plans… Truth be told, Parallel Lives wasn’t exactly one of my better laid plans, it was something that took shape along the way, and I simply needed to go through with it. The book ended up being published a few weeks later, and my blog quickly veered off its promotional path, becoming a hodgepodge of moments, photos, thoughts and fiction. That’s just life, we write our story as we go, from one second to the next.

Meanwhile, my blog has developed a few traditions of its own. One of them is my December token of appreciation, and this year I’m starting earlier than usual. You can download Parallel Lives and Glass Slippers and Stilettos for free until December 25th. Feel free to share the links below with anybody you think might enjoy the books or offer them a copy as a gift. Enjoy!

Last but not least, thank you for bearing with me for yet another year and for sharing your stories and thoughts on your own blogs, allowing the reader to glance into your souls. Have a nice December, everyone!

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/analinden

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/ana+linden?_requestid=538455

https://www.kobo.com/ww/en/search?query=Ana%20Linden&fcsearchfield=Author

and on iBooks, of course.

Young, beautiful and independent Amalia refuses to apply traditional concepts to any of her relationships with men; therefore commitment, marriage and couple routine are not part of her vision on life. Cynical and highly aware of the realities of an unromanticized modern world devoid of long lasting feelings, Amalia appears to only seek the promise of a few moments of fleeting happiness next to the men in her life. The opposite sex is often no more than a refuge from all mundane problems and deceptions, so the young woman stubbornly refuses to settle down with any of the men who try to win her affection – that would only mean the death of her soul, independence and character

Regina is the woman everybody loves to hate and hates to love. Behind the gorgeous, demurred façade lurk selfish ambition, ignorance and a desperate need to find her happily ever after. The search for a man to rescue her and make her dreams come true follows a sinuous, often obscure, but entertaining path. Regina may try to deny it, but she is no innocent princess, Prince Charming can be a beast in disguise and modern-day happy endings are nothing like their fairy tale version.

February Traditions

In the early days of this blog, I also started an early Valentine’s Day tradition. As my little gift to you (it isn’t much, but that’s the best I can do to show my appreciation during what many consider to be the month of love), you can download my books, Parallel Lives and Glass Slippers and Stilettos, for free. Given that neither one of them is a typical “they lived happily ever after” romance and they portray rather unconventional, uncomfortable twists and turns of relationships, they might also be a good choice for those of you not really in the mood for celebrating this year. Whether you get them for yourself or as a gift for somebody else, I hope you enjoy my small token of appreciation 🙂 . Feel free to download as many copies as you want form iBooks, Smashwords.com, Barnes&Noble, Kobo or Inktera, and share them with your friends.

 https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/parallel-lives-ana-linden/1118140770?ean=2940045563567

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/parallel-lives-7

http://www.inktera.com/store/title/1ac546fe-cc7e-480c-bba7-8c7f34c72830

 

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/645454

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/glass-slippers-and-stilettos

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/glass-slippers-and-stilettos-ana-linden/1123982690?ean=2940153093093

http://www.inktera.com/store/title/f3a2bcb9-41e8-4ee0-9b12-ad42b3e9771f

Happy New Year!

happy-new-year

Mistakes are unavoidable. Sometimes, they can even be the result of good intentions. If we’re lucky and wise, we manage to understand what went wrong and try our best to avoid repeating those actions, perhaps we can even try and succeed in fixing what was broken. Unfortunately, wallowing in regret doesn’t help much; all we can do is pick ourselves up and move forward, remembering the past, but not allowing it to control the future. So let’s hold our heads up high, take responsibility and step confidently into a brand new year, full of opportunities for wonderful achievements and glorious mistakes, all of which build who we are.

Happy New Year, everyone! May 2017 be a better one for you and all those people you treasure!

Blind Date on Christmas – Part 2

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Part 1

I had to admire their stubbornness, resourcefulness and shamelessness – once I had refused to meet any of these so-called suitors, they found a loophole and came up with one I had already met before… moreover, they actually snuck him into the living room when I literally wasn’t looking. Who was I not to appreciate the humour in it?

To be fair, they had done worse in the past… This one might actually make for a fun fling. A good sense of humour, not hard on the eyes… She was right, we did get along well, there was some chemistry there, from the moment we had met a couple of years earlier; it never went beyond innocent flirting, we had never been single at the same time… until then.

So much for being comfortable around each-other… they’re singing my praises. Isn’t that a nice tree? She decorated it, you know… here, have some more cake, she baked it. She’ll make somebody a great wife someday. I chocked on my food instantaneously – they’d gone too far with that one. Oddly, our guest didn’t even flinch.

Poor thing… how he suffered after the break-up… But I know you’ll find someone right for you, you’re such a great guy. So my mother was in charge with talking him up. If only I didn’t know what she really thought of him, the disposable boy toy… I knew that if I wanted to get back at her, all I had to do was to seriously get involved with him… or any other guy like him. Hmmm… she would deserve that, wouldn’t she? Let’s see how the night goes…

Strike one – he’s all of the sudden intimidated by my mother; he’s even afraid of her! A man in his thirties, who’s been friends with her husband for about a decade… that’s simply unacceptable. Oh well…

On the bright side, at least this one wasn’t gay, like the one they had in store for me the previous year. Casual dinner with some friends, they said. Yes, a married couple and their son… their clearly gay son (clear to everybody but his parents and my stepfather). And playing the part of the jealous party crasher, none other than the son’s “best friend”… Come to think of it, this was actually an improvement.

Somehow, dinner crawled to an end and we, young folk, were sent out in the world to have some fun. The guy thought we’d go see a movie, he had already gotten the tickets. I rolled my eyes – strike two. Predictable and boring. I hate going to the movies on a first date. I would rather spend that time getting to know the person, not in a movie theatre where we can’t talk. Family holiday, that’s what Christmas is, how could you not come and spend it with us? Of course it is… I had flown thousands of kilometres the day before so I could spend Christmas Eve in a cinema, watching a movie I didn’t feel like seeing with a guy I barely knew, surrounded by strangers. Merry Christmas to me!

It was all too ridiculous and harmless to be angry, really… And I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the innocent victim he was in our family antics. I could just see him as he was approached earlier that day and told I would really like to spend the evening with him, but I was just too shy to ask him out… so the date might come as a surprise to me, a really pleasant surprise… he hadn’t thought they wouldn’t tell me… but he couldn’t waste such an opportunity, could he?… Poor, poor, poor guy – he’s expecting who knows what sexy vision of a woman and instead he gets me in all my messy, domestic glory. Yet, he’s still happy to go out with me, even after that charming appearance and my parents’ behaviour. That says a lot (most likely, that he’s crazy and/or desperate)…

But he’s slowly becoming the guy I used to find quite attractive, so the walk to the cinema turns out to be just what we needed. After all, an outlet, a refuge from my family during my stay with them is always beneficial. And we are both consenting adults, perhaps later – if things go well – we could openly discuss the rules and limitations of short term dating. Aren’t I the romantic one?…

Let’s see what he suggests we do after the movie and how he behaves. Dancing the night away in a club was the perfect antidote to that evening (if fun I was supposed to have, fun I would have, and they would end up regretting it). But introducing me to his friends as his girlfriend halfway into our first date… well… strike three! That’s not to say he didn’t make for a fun escape that holiday season… But best of all, the way I simply – and apparently insensitively – said goodbye to him when leaving, according to the initially set rules, hurt his little boy toy heart, becoming a great source of gossip for their entire group of friends and acquaintances, thus insuring the end of all attempts to set me up with various individuals.

Blind Date on Christmas – Part 1

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It was shortly after lunch when I started looking forward to the comfort of a hot shower, a fluffy bathrobe and a pair of soft slippers . I made it back from the local shopping centre frozen, hungry and somewhat scarred for life by the madness of last minute shoppers – one of which I had unwillingly become that year. But at least my frozen claws were clenched, holding on to their sought after and fought over prey – a not too big cardboard box containing a brand new artificial Christmas tree and a plastic bag with a few decently looking ornaments.

She could’ve at least checked to see what state it was in, I couldn’t stop thinking somewhat resentfully, because my mother’s old Christmas tree was beyond redemption, as I got to find out earlier that day. But after fighting tooth and nail with the cat in order to recover each and every one of the bobbles my mother so gracefully spread all over the floor for the little animal to play with, after figuring out where the tree could be safely set, out of reach of the spoiled four-legged menace, after some pre-Christmas cooking and baking, the evening ahead seemed promising. I was exhausted, but it looked like we were about to have a nice, calm, peaceful family Christmas Eve for a change.

Fluffy robe and cute slippers on, hair in a messy ponytail, all relaxed and reinvigorated, I’m making my way to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee before I decide on something nice and comfortable to wear – and all of the sudden I feel like I’ve forgotten how to breathe… and utter words. I don’t blush. I never do. But I feel my face burning, it must be red this time. There he is, the family friend… all dressed up, looking festive, uncomfortable and equally speechless. And there’s my mother urging me to be polite and hug the man – after all, we hadn’t seen each other in such a long while. And there’s her husband, grinning smugly, whispering to me, I couldn’t fit him under the Christmas tree, but you can thank me later.

I really should have known better… both of them had been on their best behaviour the entire day, occasionally exchanging amused glances or leaving the room in order to make various phone calls. But I fell for the mirage of that simple, tranquil, boringly normal Christmas Eve dinner, and you just don’t question a miracle if you feel it’s about to happen.

I needed help with my outfit, so the gentlemen had to excuse me, while my mother had to explain herself as soon as we were out of the room. It was really all his fault – she would blame it on her husband, as usual; she would have preferred someone better. But this one would have to do on such short notice… it would have been nice of me to let them know I was single at least a few weeks in advance. What’s the harm in it, anyway? He’s a nice guy, I had met him before, we always got along well… and you have to admit he’s hot, she tells me. And he broke up with what’s-her-name, now you two can finally have some fun.

I really should have known better. It was all about the perfect package – and as long as I didn’t have a date for Christmas or for the New Year’s Eve party or for any of the other holiday related events, I was not the full package. I had once again forgotten that everything I had accomplished held value only if there was a man there to hold my hand. And since I was in my mid-twenties, I was practically an old maid already. It didn’t really matter if I was dating somebody at home or not – as long as I didn’t bring anybody with me to introduce to them, I was fair game and they took it upon themselves to set all sorts of uncomfortable dates for me. I had no problem getting dates on my own, thank you!

To be continued…

On My Third Year on WordPress…

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December is rapidly slipping away and taking stock of the year about to end is something most of us tend to do. Here’s yet another reminder – a nice one, this time. Three years on WordPress… Thank you all for putting up with me for 12 more months! Thank you for your support and encouragement! And thank you for sharing your wonderful stories and opinions, for drawing me into your worlds each time I read your posts.

It was this third year of blogging that gave me the opportunity to put together and self-publish a collection of short stories, which started off as posts on this site. It was also this year of blogging that led to a very interesting collaboration (more on that and the book that resulted at a later time). So thank you for reading and since Christmas is near, here’s my small gift to you – you can download Parallel Lives and Glass Slippers and Stilettos for free until the end of the year.

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/analinden

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/ana+linden?_requestid=538455

https://www.kobo.com/ww/en/search?query=Ana%20Linden&fcsearchfield=Author

and on iBooks.

Happy reading!

On a different note, I took a quick look and these are the three posts that people were most interested in during this third year on WordPress:

1. Vicious Circles

As soon as that much desired snow covered everything, it seemed that those to complain about it most bitterly were the very people demanding it the loudest a week ago. Who would have thought?… Forget about that white fairytale-like magic so craved over Christmas, now it’s all about freezing cold, snow and ice covered roads, impossible traffic… and the cold, oh the cold… and did I mention the cold? I must have – after all, that’s what everybody keeps talking about.

We’re children at heart, really… we must be, since we constantly trap ourselves in the same vicious circles, even if we know better by now. Read more…

2. Glass Half Empty, Half Full, Or No Glass At All?

I may be able to come up with quite a variety of words to describe myself, but ‘optimist’ is not amongst them. I’m a realist. And as a realist, I cannot help having my moments of stifling pessimism, just as I also cannot help having hopes and dreams from time to time. As for that one person of the two who know me in real life, and have also been told about this blog – no, I don’t suffer from multiple personality disorder either… Or if I do, the one typing right now certainly has no idea about it. But we’ll go back to that later.

If you believe yourself to be a realist, then most likely you have often been accused of negative thinking and you’ve been labelled a pessimist more times than you can remember. Read more…

3. Down To Earth Or Up In The Clouds

As children, many of us are often told we can do anything and become whoever we want, when we grow up. Then we start growing up. With every year that passes, more and more of those options are stricken off that imaginary list. We discover ourselves, we understand what doesn’t suit us, we figure out what we don’t want to or cannot do. Whether we like it or not, we learn that wanting something doesn’t necessarily mean we can find a way to get it, contrary to urban legends and positive thinking myths. Yet we keep going, we still plan ahead and we find new purposes every day, because the present and the past are not enough, we also need some sort of hope for the future we can hold on to. Read more…

I hope it’s been a decent year for all of you. Happy Holidays!

Underneath the Tinsel or Making My Own Christmas Traditions – Part Three

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Part One – The Illusion

Part Two – The Reality

Part Three – My Own Christmas

I didn’t know it then, but that Christmas Eve would stay with me for as long as I would have memories to hold on to… not because it was fabulous, but because it was the first time I felt and understood what it was all about – what I needed it to be all about.

It was just the three of us listening to Christmas songs and staring at the flickering lights in the Christmas tree… my Christmas tree, as I felt the need to point out several times that year. We were 16 or 17 and it was the year that my grandmother had decreed that I was too old to have a tree. Well, if I was too old for a tree, then I was certainly old enough to do things however I saw fit when it came to Christmas in general. Faced with a minor family drama and a harsh blow to her perfectly loving grandmother image, she gave in and allowed the tree. That concession, however, would cost me all my Christmas gifts, I was warned. I didn’t mind, a few pairs of socks and another ugly scarf were definitely worth giving up.

It may not have been the most beautiful Christmas tree that I ever had growing up, but to this day it remains the one I treasured the most. We were all somewhat sad and ashamed sitting around that tree, my best friend, my boyfriend and I, that year… Yet we were also so very happy, so very content, finally so very peaceful. My best friend and I had gone shopping for the tree the day before and then he helped me get it home, spending hours and hours in the December cold and snow, trying to find the greatest one I could afford. That was as fun and pleasant as it should have been, the way both of us had forgotten it could be.

Once I finished decorating it, once my home was finally calm and quiet after my grandparents went to visit some of their acquaintances, the three of us had the unbelievable, unexpected chance to simply feel it was Christmas. Presents – small, thoughtful and amusing tokens of appreciation – discretely found their way under the tree, when the others weren’t looking. Between the carols, the smell of the tree and the Christmas wrapping paper torn open and spread all over the floor, we could laugh and be light-hearted, we could forget that uncomfortable sadness; we felt relieved, because somebody had thought of and cared about each and every one of us that year. We had each other, and that was all that mattered. We understood each other, we knew each other’s stories and we supported each other. It was as safe, calm and blissful a moment as any of us could have. We shared hopes and dreams; we shared painful stories of Christmases past and present and for once they didn’t hurt. We didn’t know it back then, but we were already forging our own traditions, we were deciding what we would never become, because our families had taught us what we hated most about human beings.

That’s how my grandmother found us, lying on the Persian rug near the tree, wrapping paper spread everywhere. Were we drunk, she wanted to know. No, we were not. Well, good, then it was time for us to clean up and go to wherever we were heading that evening, because she was expecting guests and we were in the way. But not before she opened her own Christmas present from me. I don’t remember what I got her that year, but after making a face and muttering a thankful ‘I suppose it’ll have to do’, the gift was deemed worthy to be seen by her friends. I adjusted my extremely short dress, I put on my extremely high heel boots and my nice coat and off we went, to wherever we were going to go. Apparently we were the cool kids, so we were going to attend a fun party and/or go dancing with our equally cool friends and acquaintances, whose parents weren’t particularly interested to know where and how their children spent Christmas, as long as they weren’t in the way.

We cannot chose the family we are born in, but we can chose the family we make for ourselves, the people who are closest to us, with whom we share the most intimate moments, memories and experiences. Yes, I believe that Christmas is a family holiday; but what I have learnt is that family is not always determined by DNA, not for all of us. My family are those very few people who have always accepted and appreciated me for who I am, those people who have always been there for me, offering their support in hard times and sharing my happiness in joyful ones, those people who have appreciated my doing the same for them. As it happens, none of them are related to me. And it’s all right.

Like I said, I make my own traditions. I choose when and how I decorate the Christmas tree. I choose to bake those delightfully delicious goodies every year – in spite of her countless flaws, my grandmother did manage to teach me some of her baking secrets. I choose to get nice, meaningful gifts for my dear ones, and sometimes I will buy them months before Christmas. I also choose not to judge or appreciate people and measure their affection only based on the presents they offer me. And for the past few years, I have also chosen to spend Christmas at home, nowhere near any relatives.

For years I have frantically chased all sorts of unattainable holiday goals, only to end up being disappointed, only to end up thinking of that bittersweet Christmas Eve, wishing for that sort of peace and acceptance. I decorate my home early in December and for years I’ve left this cosy place in order to try and gain acceptance and appreciation from people unable to accept or appreciate anybody. I refused to be alone on holidays, fearing I would be unhappy, only to learn the same lesson, time and time again – the worst kind of loneliness is the one you feel when you’re surrounded by people you don’t like. For years I left behind the people who cared about me so I could be with my… family. No more.

I have people who love me. In spite of my cynicism, I have reasons to be thankful and celebrate on Christmas, and I will do it my own way. I am not perfect and I have long ago given up trying to be, so I have accepted that there are people I will never be able to forgive, just as I will never be able to be nice and good to everybody. But once in a while I need to try to be especially nice to those I hold dear; I have to appreciate myself and the beautiful parts of my life. For me, Christmas is such a time… because I get lost in my own life and I need a reminder to stop and offer all these small pleasures to myself and those close to me. I will not apologize for who I am. I will not deny my own values, no matter what others may believe. And I will feel and celebrate Christmas the way I find it appropriate, allowing for bittersweet happiness and relinquishing all guilt and disapproval. You see, I no longer care about what the world or my family expect from me.

Have a nice December, everyone! Whether your celebrate Christmas or not, make sure it’s your own choice and not one forced on you by family or society.

Underneath the Tinsel or Making My Own Christmas Traditions – Part Two

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Part One – The Illusion

Part Two – The Reality

The choir started singing all those beautiful carols we loved. That was the best part of it and I didn’t want her to miss any of it. I’d go get her, I told my grandmother. I was handed my coat and scarf and in a low voice I was warned there would be trouble if I caught a cold, thus ruining everybody’s holidays. I snuck out as discretely as possible, but disgruntled looks from some of the older ladies could not be avoided.

There she was, on the bench in front of the church, just where I expected to find her, smoking a cigarette. Her face was cold, sad and pale, and her fingers trembled slightly as they moved the cigarette back and forth. We could hear the choir from the bench outside the church and that’s where we stayed and listened to the carols that year. Pieces were falling into place – even if I was still very young, even if I couldn’t quite explain it, I was starting to understand why my mother didn’t want to be there in the first place and why my grandfather kept his distance, refusing to take part in that charade every Christmas.

I was the cute grandchild and my mother was the beautiful, independent, accomplished daughter. Our sole purpose on this world was to make my grandmother proud, I was starting to understand back then. What better time of year than Christmas for the entire community to envy her for her success as a mother and grandmother? What better time of year for the entire community to console her for the shame her ungrateful daughter put her through, refusing to get married? What better time of year to throw her to the gossip hungry wolves, thus punishing her for refusing to present her with a doctor or lawyer son-in-law she could brag about to all her friends?

We listened to the carols from outside, so the cold winter wind could protect us from the cold, vicious, judgemental ‘Christmas spirit’ inside the church. It had gotten particularly festive that year, when my grandmother brought the priest over, so he could better threaten my mother with eternal damnation for not being married… Words no man should ever address a woman, especially in the presence of her child, were uttered. Sharp, bitter, cynical, yet polite comebacks eventually left him speechless and with a proud demeanour my mother said goodbye, turned away and left, still holding my hand as I was struggling to keep up with her fast pace. She knew him as a child, I later found out; they used to play together and be friends; they were the same age, they were still so young, both of them under thirty, yet it all seemed so old and ugly…

Christmas is a time of giving, my grandmother taught me. Christmas is a time of giving, because that’s the only way to prove to those around that you have plenty to spare, maybe even more than them, therefore you are better. There was great bliss in discovering other ladies’ Christmas feast was by far not as rich or as well prepared as hers. It was her personal victory if another woman’s household wasn’t immaculate as hers; she really didn’t pay any attention to the fact that many of those women – her relatives included – also had fulltime jobs to worry about.

Christmas is also a time when you need to know how to receive, my grandmother taught me. It took a while for me to understand that from the many presents there were to be found under the tree on Christmas morning, none was actually from her. She was to receive presents from her family, not to offer them; and they had to be nice, expensive ones, the kind that would trigger her friends’ and acquaintances’ envy. ‘Why… you shouldn’t have…’ was the usual response… but god forbid you hadn’t done it. You were going to be in trouble for it until the following Christmas, when out of the goodness of her heart she would give you a chance to make amends for it. Proper etiquette had to be observed – no matter how nice the gift offered to her might have been, it would lose all its value had you offered something more valuable to someone else. Thus I learned about another Christmas essential – gratitude…

Christmas was about the tree as well – after all, it was the first relevant thing our guests would see, so it had to be nicer than the one any of them might have had at home. She would dramatically collapse on a chair next to it, sipping some wine from one of her crystal glasses, complaining about how exhausting it had all been for her. All the preparations were meant to make her family happy, but did she ever get anything in return? Did anybody ever show her any gratitude? Of course not… No matter who the listeners were, they were always quick to console the poor, unappreciated lady, and to praise her splendidly decorated home and her extremely delicious cooking.

From one Christmas to another, the mirage of that ideal family was more and more difficult to maintain. My mother started finding more and more reasons not to visit over the holidays. My grandfather finally retired. Times were changing rapidly and all of the sudden, she had to live with the idea that her social status would never be what it had been. There was no need to pretend to care about the less fortunate anymore. There was no need to have a wonderful Christmas tree, since there were no relevant guests to envy it anymore. There would still be baking for several days before Christmas, because much as she liked to pretend she was sacrificing herself for all of us, baking was something she actually enjoyed doing, just as she enjoyed the taste of those delicious treats.

Most of her Christmas traditions were still observed, especially when it came to giving and receiving gifts, but the situation became increasingly ridiculous as time went by. While somehow managing to maintain her aura of innocence and goodness to the outside world, the old lady was not able to forever frighten her own family into submission. One by one, most of us managed to break free and live our own lives…

I was presented with so many facets of Christmas over the years, both within and outside my family… so I could only do one thing, since I wasn’t going to deny the holiday and its positive symbolism: I had to make Christmas my own. I had to chisel my own traditions, if I was going to survive it; that’s what I learnt and struggled to accept early on.

To be continued…

Underneath the Tinsel or Making My Own Christmas Traditions – Part One

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Part One – The Illusion

The house was filled with that delicious smell of baked goodies. Vanilla and a variety of other aromas I was too young to know or recognize conspired with my grandmother in creating that warm, heavy, divine, mouth-watering smell that could mean only one thing: Christmas was only a few days away.

It was the final element in that trilogy of olfactory sensations that I have associated with the winter holidays from a very early age. The oranges were the first harbinger of the impending festivities and as I stood by the big fruit bowl, scratching at one of them with my little nails so I could carry its perfume with me, I knew there wasn’t long to go ‘till the much expected moment.

Then came the tree. My grandfather was never too involved in all the preparations, but getting the tree was always his job and I was his trusty sidekick. It was our little tradition: we would scour all the Christmas tree markets until we found the perfect one, I would choose it and he would carry it home. I don’t know about him, but that intoxicating fir tree smell would make me completely forget about the freezing cold wind, about the icy patches on which I really needed to watch my step and about the snow, which somehow managed to find its way into my boots each and every time. The serious, respectable, stern man became a child again, analysing fir trees, laughing more than I would see him laugh during the entire year and always indulging me, all the while knowing that the one I chose would inevitably be too tall. He’d be the one severely reprimanded as soon as we got home, but little did he care.

So when the baking also started, I knew it was time for my mother to arrive and for a long time that was what Christmas was all about for me. Once that finally happened, the two of us would decorate the tree and do the last of the Christmas shopping for that year. Among all those activities, she would work on answering all my questions about Santa and trying to convince me he was real. You see, that was a story I never fully believed, so each year she struggled to convince me, until her patience invariably reached its limits, resorting to the so very effective argument, “Because I said so.” As soon as that was taken care of, we could continue decorating while listening to carols. New decorations got lost among the older ones, my mother would share Christmas stories from her childhood and we would conspire on playing all sorts of silly little harmless tricks on my grandparents, the way she used to do back in those days she recollected.

Come Christmas morning, there were presents under the tree for everybody. At that time, I had no idea that not all families could enjoyed the same pleasures we did. I didn’t grow up to be a religious person, but in those days both my mother and I indulged my grandmother, dressed up as elegantly as we could and joined her to church. I was to be quiet and well-behaved, but most importantly I was to be thankful for everything my family was offering me.

Some of what we had, we were supposed to share with others on Christmas. We had relatives and close friends come by our place and we would return their visits. Everybody would wear nice, festive clothes, gifts would be exchanged and there was laughter to be heard around the tree. The good china, the fancy silverware and the expensive crystal would make an appearance, as we were going to always share a delicious home cooked meal with our guests. As the impeccable baker that she was, my grandmother always had little goody bags ready to be trotted out and handed out when our guests were finally heading home or for us to take to all the homes we were visiting from Christmas Eve until the New Year’s.

Our friends and neighbours behaved in a very similar fashion, from what I can remember. We often knocked at their doors, offering little packages of homemade goodness and in their turn, they would share some of their feast with us. My job was to help wrap up everything and small branches cut off our too large Christmas tree or bits of mistletoe were my special touch. Old clothes, washed and carefully packed, were being taken to some destination unknown to me, where others needed them; I wasn’t sure why or how, but I didn’t spend any time wondering about it during those early years.

Christmas was a time of magic, of dreams come true, of love and sharing, it was the time of year when I felt cared for and safe more than at any other given moment, it was when that which I desired the most became reality. For the innocent child I was, that trilogy of smells was the promise of bliss. That trilogy of smells still makes my heart beat faster… even now, so many years later… even now, when I know better…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, as Dickens said it so wisely… and I would eventually understand it clearly.

 

Part Two – The Reality

Part Three – My Own Christmas

Relaxing

7I have my little ritual every year after I decorate the Christmas tree. Once I tidy up and the empty boxes go back where they belong, I switch off all the lights in my home. Only the Christmas lights are on, the ones in the tree and those decorating the windows. I listen to sappy Christmas songs, just as I do while decorating. I just sit on the sofa, enjoying a well deserved glass of wine or perhaps a cup of hot coffee, whatever I feel like, and I think of past Decembers, good and bad alike. It’s just that calming tree and I, and even if I am practical these days and no longer get a real fir, it serves its purpose. Every year, it brings some joy and pleasure into my life, rewarding the child in me, awakening the child I once was. I… we… put such effort into setting the stage for Christmas, so we might as well relax for a moment and enjoy it, remembering how those lights seemed magical to the children we once were.

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And sometimes my mind just wonders off and I can’t help thinking of warmer days… 🙂

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Relax.

A Realist’s Magic

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“Sorry, I forgot you were born a cynic.”

We both laughed. He wasn’t far from the truth.

With Christmas only a month away and the air getting chillier every day, with seasonal decorations and gift suggestions invading every corner of our lives, some of us find it difficult to chase away a certain feeling of anticipation. That childish giddiness is almost in the air again, and personally, I have to exercise a certain kind of self-control and not succumb to that exaggerate desire of purchasing more and more Christmas decorations I won’t have where to store once the holidays are over.

The slide down memory lane is inevitable when trying to make some sort of holiday plans and my oldest, closest friend and I have our own traditions. First, we do our best to spend some time together in December, preferably over the holidays (that used to be so much easier to accomplish when we were kids…). Then, once that happens, old photos are pulled out and all sorts of memories are rehashed – bitter, sweet and bittersweet ones alike.

He was the child who refused to believe Santa wasn’t real, until he had no choice but to accept that life is harsh and its struggles sometimes have to be faced at an early age. He believed in magic and magic was suddenly taken away, to only be replaced by sadness and disappointment. I, however, never believed in Santa Claus. Christmas was my favourite time of year. I loved and enjoyed every moment of it for several years before it all became too real; yet I never believed in Santa, even if presents mysteriously materialized under the tree every Christmas morning. I couldn’t really explain why, it was a feeling more than anything else. My intuition simply didn’t allow me to believe it, even if in a way, I would have liked him to be real. Later on, the explanation crystalized in a few simple words, which apply to so many other instances of our lives: it was too good to be true. Like my friend said, I must have been born a cynic. It’s probably also true that he was a happier child before he saw the magic die in front of his innocent eyes.

Now we can make light of such memories, the ones about how we found out for sure Santa wasn’t real. Once I had decided to obtain irrefutable proof that the jolly man in red was only a lie, nothing stood in my way. Evidence once found, my plan was to wait until Christmas morning and then tell my mother I already knew what my presents were. But once I proclaimed I knew there was no Santa and I could prove it, I could clearly discern a shadow of sadness and worry on my mother’s face. I needed to prove I was right; but she needed me not to, she needed me to believe in magic. So I said nothing else aside from the usual, “I just know”. After all, I knew what the truth was and that was enough. Sometimes, parents lie to protect their children. And sometimes, children do the same to protect their parents. On that particular Christmas, the magic was all about a mother and a daughter wanting to make each other happy.

I later understood there was a different magic of Christmas in which I actually believed, and that had simply been the first time I had experienced it. It wasn’t about religion, myths, superstition or supernatural beings making dreams come true. Instead, it was about offering myself some moments of childish joy and also about creating a happy instance for somebody dear to me. What can I say, there’s magic and there’s magic… Mine just happens to be of the more realistic, non-idealized, superstition-free kind.

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Magic.

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Celebrate Poetry

“By paying tribute to the men and women whose only instrument is free speech, who imagine and act, UNESCO recognizes in poetry its value as a symbol of the human spirit’s creativity. By giving form and words to that which has none – such as the unfathomable beauty that surrounds us, the immense suffering and misery of the world – poetry contributes to the expansion of our common humanity, helping to increase its strength, solidarity and self-awareness.”

Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO

We owe a debt of gratitude to all those beautiful people who have to willingness and ability to turn words into art when expressing their thoughts though poetry. They enrich our lives, they stimulate our creative side and they open our souls to culture, empathy and sympathy. The least we can do is read a poem today and appreciate the struggle behind the words!

International Women’s Day

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Are you enjoying your day, ladies? I hope you are, it is our day, after all… 🙂

I called my mother to wish her all the best on this occasion and she reminded me I should treat myself to something nice today. She wasn’t wrong about that, we deserve to spoil ourselves once in a while, whatever that might mean to each and every one of us – a good book, our favourite perfume, perhaps that gorgeous pair of shoes, a night out or a good bottle of wine at home to complete a quiet, relaxing evening… whatever we may feel like! Have some fun and celebrate your lives! And let’s not allow the day to pass without reminding those special women in our lives that they are important and appreciated. 🙂

Happy Women’s Day, Ladies! 🙂