Christmas Present

Regardless of which version of history you believe and what holiday(s) you do or do not celebrate, I think it’s worthwhile to have a “winding down” of the year during which we shift focus from frenzied work and socialization to calm time with family and friends–and with ourselves in quiet reflection.

For me, it goes kind of like this:  work extra hard for weeks getting ready to be (mostly) out of the office; run like mad for a couple of days to get ready to go visit family; spend a day traveling; relax, unwind, and enjoy being with people I love for a day and a half; discover when I relax that I am exhausted and require frequent naps; spend a day traveling back home; collapse and relax (relatively) quietly until New Year’s Eve, reflecting on the past year and working on some sort of self-discovery that I optimistically believe will lead to life-improvement.

The time with family and the week “off” between Christmas and New Year’s Eve are the times that matter most to me.  I’ve given up on massive consumerism in favor of minimizing the gifts and enjoying the visit.  For gifts, I go with silly stocking stuffers and money for my college-aged nephews.

Tisen is the only one I go overboard on.  I bought him a fleece that fits him like a dress, a bigger Lamb Chop, and some treats.  He’s easy to buy for and he thinks every gift is perfect.

Oddly, now that Christmas is so much easier (stocking stuffers for 4 and money for 2; I don’t even do cards anymore), it’s less enjoyable.  Having removed the majority of the consumerism from the holiday seems to have also removed much of the potential thrill.

After all, the best gift I ever got wasn’t a gift I received, it was the gift of having thought of the perfect gift for someone else.  It truly is the thought that counts–but I want the thought to be “I know you; I see you; I love you as you are.” Not “you really need this thing you’ve never heard of because I think you do.”  Or, “I have no idea what you would want, so thank you for making a list.”

Gone is the feeling of connectedness and belonging that comes along with knowing someone else so well or at least having paid close enough attention that you came up with that perfect gift for them.

On the flip side, after years of failing to think of the perfect gift for the people I love, I go in with realistic expectations and come out without disappointment.

Perhaps the secret is not tying the spiritual calming of year end reflection and time with loved ones to gift giving.  Perhaps we could give gifts when the perfect idea presents itself instead of based on a date on the calendar.  Then the only problem is if the perfect idea never comes.

Through the Stone Door

When we went to Stone Door for our Christmas hike, we decided to go a bit further than the last time we visited.  On our previous trip, we had a second hike scheduled and didn’t have a lot of time to spend at Stone Door.

This time, having no other destination and not having worked up an appetite for lunch yet, we decided to take the steps down through Stone Door to see what it was like from below.

The steps, I’m sure, have been improved since ancient civilizations used them long ago.  The rocks look to have been cut and placed for easier access.  This does not, however, make them an easy descent.  Especially not with two dogs on leashes.  Fortunately for me, Pat took the dogs ahead and carefully made his way down the steps while I took some shots from above.

Twiggy takes the lead down the Stone Door steps

Twiggy takes the lead down the Stone Door steps

Pat holds on to the Stone Door frame while working his way down with the dogs

Pat holds on to the Stone Door frame while working his way down with the dogs

The way down was made more treacherous by the water dripping on the rocks.  Slippery in places, steep, and uneven, I had trouble making it safely while protecting my camera from dripping water.  Good thing Pat had the dogs.

At the bottom of the stone steps, I paused to take a shot back up the crevice.  The “pitcher handle” at the top of the steps is a misshapen tree that looks like it might have been one of the forces that originally pried apart the rocks (not really, but its shape is pretty mysterious).

A tree forms a pitcher handle at the top of the Stone Door steps

A tree forms a pitcher handle at the top of the Stone Door steps

The stone steps only took us down about 50 feet or so.  The river at the bottom of the valley was still well below and out of sight.  We continued down a bit further, curious to see if we would have a view of the river.

Once through the Stone Door, a big chunk the rock face has slid down the mountain, leaving a flat spot.  The park added wooden stairs for the next section of the descent.

At the bottom of the Stone Door, wooden steps make for easier access

At the bottom of the Stone Door, wooden steps make for easier access

We had a bit of a dog logistics issue at this point.  About half way down the stone steps, Pat had let the dogs off their leashes, feeling it was safer for all.  They decided to go around the wooden stairs and headed off on a rock that came to a dead end over a big drop.  I got a little frantic that they were getting close to the edge and in calling them, caused Tisen to panic and, instead of meeting us at the bottom of the stairs, which would have been easiest, he decided to leap up the 4-foot retaining wall to get back to my side as quickly as possible.  He did a belly flop into the wall on the first attempt.  He made it the second time and showed no signs of injury, so we allowed ourselves to snicker a little.

Tisen flopped into the retaining wall trying to jump back up to get to the top of the steps

Tisen flopped into the retaining wall trying to jump back up to get to the top of the steps

We all made it to the bottom of the stairs together safely.  We stood for a few minutes looking back at the rock face we had just come through.  I imagine the stories if it could talk!

Straight, even, and not slippery, the second section of the descent went much more smoothly

Straight, even, and not slippery, the second section of the descent went much more smoothly

Stone Door Christmas

What does one do for Christmas when one is far from family?  Well, we decided to go hiking.  This is not so far removed from what we normally do on Christmas.  Although we were without my brother, sister-in-law, and nephews, we normally at least go for a walk on Christmas if not an out-and-out hike.

This year, we decided to undertake a slightly more strenuous outing.  Not a lot more strenuous, mind you.  We opted for a relatively easy and short hike given we’re a bit out of shape these days.  Plus, with Twiggy staying with us over the holiday, we weren’t sure what she would be like on the trail.

Wanting a low-stress outing, we decided to revisit Stone Door in the South Cumberland State Park.  The walk from the parking lot to the main overlook is only about a mile and the first portion of the trail is paved and wheelchair accessible.

We layered up although it was in the low 50’s here on Christmas day–the wind was strong enough to make it feel cooler.  We’d actually planned ahead for once and had provisions for a special Christmas picnic with wild caught smoked salmon, deli rolls, and cream cheese.

Twiggy’s mom had also provided a care package for the dogs for Christmas, so we packed pigs ears and lamb sausages for them to snack on.  The care package also included two new toys–a white fluffy ball for Twiggy and a squeaky green reindeer for Tisen.

Tisen claimed the white fluffy ball instead and wouldn’t let Twiggy near it.  Notice the ball next to Tisen’s head while riding in the car.

Tisen uses Twiggy's new toy as a pillow while Twiggy snuggles with Tisen's Big Dog

Tisen uses Twiggy’s new toy as a pillow while Twiggy snuggles with Tisen’s Big Dog

Stone Door is one of the more surprising places near us–at least to us.  The drive from Chattanooga to Stone Door is beautiful in and of itself.  The highway winds its way through the tree-covered mountains and through Nick-a-Jack lake, making the hour plus drive enjoyable in and of itself.  Then, the first overlook on the Stone Door trail is a breath-taking experience, even though you don’t have to leave asphalt to get to it.  It’s the kind of scenery that I grew up thinking you had to travel a long way to see.

An easy-access spectacular view

An easy-access spectacular view

From the easy-access overlook, you can see the rock outcropping where the Stone Door overlook starts

From the easy-access overlook, you can see the rock outcropping where the Stone Door overlook starts

Further down the trail, the top of the Stone Door (which is really a crevice that has provided a path down to the valley below for thousands of years) affords even more breath-taking views.

Cliff-side trees always impress me--good thing they're not afraid of heights

Cliff-side trees always impress me–good thing they’re not afraid of heights

This tree seems to have given up the ghost, but it still clings cliffside

This tree seems to have given up the ghost, but it still clings cliffside

I sometimes get a little closer to the edge than I'm really comfortable with--unlike the trees, I am afraid of heights

I sometimes get a little closer to the edge than I’m really comfortable with–unlike the trees, I am afraid of heights

Between the rocks, a huge hole provides a window to the valley below

Between the rocks, a huge hole provides a window to the valley below

This is the kind of rock that makes me suspect the ledge I'm standing on is really jutting out over the cliff--makes my knees weak

This is the kind of rock that makes me suspect the ledge I’m standing on is really jutting out over the cliff–makes my knees weak

The "gulf" seems to go on forever

The “gulf” seems to go on forever

The mostly limestone geography creates spectacular outcroppings

The mostly limestone geography creates spectacular outcroppings

What I love the most about the Stone Door overlook is the sound.  We sat on the stones at the top of the cliff and just listened for a while.  The only sounds we could hear were the wind blowing through the needles of many evergreens and the river tumbling down the valley far below, out of sight.  It’s a magical experience to close your eyes and feel like you are air and water and know that life is good.  Seems pretty appropriate for Christmas.

Even Tisen and Twiggy seem impressed by the view

Even Tisen and Twiggy seem impressed by the view

Looking back at the mountain from the overlook provides this view

Looking back at the mountain from the overlook provides this view

Tisen freezes for me for just a moment

Tisen freezes for me for just a moment

Happy Christmas

I am re-posting my blog from last year Christmas Eve.  Feeling both nostalgic and concerned about what small things we can each do to make the world just a little bit better, it seemed like a good time to repeat this post.  This time, I decided to add photos.  I asked myself “what looks like peace?” when I went poking through my photos.  I wish I had more portraits, but, turns out I’m a landscape photographer.  Who knew?

All I Want for Christmas is World Peace

(originally posted December 24, 2011).

I would very much like to think of myself as a non-judgmental person.  But then I catch myself saying something like, “that crazy person is so judgmental–s/he thinks s/he is better than everyone else” and realize this is a lesson I’ve yet to master.

If you judge people, you have no time to love them.  Mother Theresa

Judgment riles me up, makes me feel righteous, justified, and even vengeful.  It separates me into the “right” and leaves those I judge in the “wrong.”  Having cast judgment, there is no need to listen or consider; all that can follow are proclamations.

Why do I judge?  There are practical reasons to make judgments.  For example, I choose to spell “judgment” with the standard American spelling instead of “judgement,” the standard British spelling.  Which is preferable?

In my case, this simple choice hides a deeper judgment.  I spell it “judgment” because I was taught that Americans who spell it “judgement” are ignorant.  If someone were to comment that I misspelled “judgment,” I could point them to a dictionary and explain that this is the correct American spelling.  I would be left feeling redeemed and, if I am painfully honest, even superior.

What I would not feel is connected to my fellow human being, negotiating the world together in harmony.

Love is the absence of judgment.  The Dalai Lama

What would I lose in giving up my judgments?  Clearly, my judgments benefit me in some way or I wouldn’t make them.  Would I be less smart if I never judged someone else to be stupid?  Would I be less hard working if I never judged anyone else to be lazy?  Would I be less competent if I never judged someone else to be incompetent?  Or do I make these judgments out of fear that I am what I judge?  Is pointing at someone else and calling them names a way of separating myself from what I don’t want to be?

I would hate to be discounted because I made a mistake.  What I would like is to be accepted for a flawed human being with the best of intentions.  What I need is to be heard and understood without being called good or bad.

 The moment that judgment stops through acceptance of what it is, you are free of the mind.  You have made room for love, for joy, for peace.  Eckhart Tolle

And that, dear reader, is what I want for Christmas:  love, joy, and peace.  I arm myself with the awareness that I judge.  I prepare myself to notice when I am judging.  I know that with attention, I can create more space for love, joy, and peace.  And in this gift to myself, I hope I can contribute just a little to a gift to the world:

World peace must develop from inner peace.  Peace is not the absence of violence.  Peace is the manifestation of human compassion.  The Dalai Lama

View of Downtown Chattanooga from Stringer's Ridge in the fall

View of Downtown Chattanooga from Stringer’s Ridge in the fall

The rising full moon pauses over Walnut Street Bridge

The rising full moon pauses over Walnut Street Bridge

This Eastern Bluebird--a harbinger of luck and happiness

This Eastern Bluebird–a harbinger of luck and happiness

While mountains offer dangerous adventures, viewed from a distance, their steadfastness always makes me feel peaceful.

While mountains offer dangerous adventures, viewed from a distance, their steadfastness always makes me feel peaceful.

Shot from Signal Point, the setting sun always puts me at ease.

Shot from Signal Point, the setting sun always puts me at ease.

What is more peaceful than a sleeping dog?

What is more peaceful than a sleeping dog?

Beautiful skies always make me feel hopeful.

Beautiful skies always make me feel hopeful.

Christmas trees alone in the dark always seem so quiet and still.  I can sit and stare at a Christmas tree for hours.

Christmas trees alone in the dark always seem so quiet and still. I can sit and stare at a Christmas tree for hours.

The ocean, when relatively calm, soothes all your troubles away.

The ocean, when relatively calm, soothes all your troubles away.

Looking down the Tennessee River valley after a long hike makes my day.

Looking down the Tennessee River valley after a long hike makes my day.

Fog filters through the trees in the Black Forest in Germany.

Fog filters through the trees in the Black Forest in Germany.

I love light beams peeping through clouds--"god beams" as at least one of my photographer friends calls them.

I love light beams peeping through clouds–“god beams” as at least one of my photographer friends calls them.

Beautiful sailboats sail peacefully on this calm day on the Bodensee in Germany.

Beautiful sailboats sail peacefully on this calm day on the Bodensee in Germany.

Photostreaming

Tisen has adopted a human style of sleeping.

Tisen has adopted a human style of sleeping.

Tisen isn't fussy when it comes to what he's willing to use as a pillow.

Tisen isn’t fussy when it comes to what he’s willing to use as a pillow.

Tisen can't decide whether to give in to his desire for a belly rub or his need to protect me from this stranger.  He splits the difference by rolling over while growling.

Tisen can’t decide whether to give in to his desire for a belly rub or his need to protect me from this stranger. He splits the difference by rolling over while growling.

Tisen seems to have gotten things reversed with his rear end high on a pillow.

Tisen seems to have gotten things reversed with his rear end high on a pillow.

Twiggy manages to curl up with the computer.

Twiggy manages to curl up with the computer.

Twiggy, Tisen, and Pat all curl up for an afternoon siesta.

Twiggy, Tisen, and Pat all curl up for an afternoon siesta.

Well, here we are, getting settled in our new home.  Today, we spent a couple of hours this morning cleaning our old apartment and gathering up the last remnants of our life there.  Pat hauled 3 cart loads out to the van while I cleaned.  We still have stuff in the storage rooms down the hall.  That will have to wait until tomorrow.  Or maybe even until after Christmas.

When we returned home, we worked on getting rid of the last of the packed boxes.  We still don’t have a place for everything yet and the photos are scattered around on chairs waiting to be hung, but the unopened boxes are all gone and it’s starting to look like we really do live here.

The new place came with one big surprise we discovered our first night.  When I got into bed, I had the sudden realization that a section of the building can see into our bed through a glass balcony door.  While it’s probably only about 6 units that have a view, that’s 6 more units than I want peering into our bedroom.

As a temporary measure, we brought the shower curtain rod and curtain we’d been using in the bedroom as a closet door (it’s a long story) and hung that over the glass in the door.  It looks great.  The glass in the door is about 6 feet tall and the shower curtain is only 4.  It’s also a black curtain and the building has a rule that all curtains have to be white on the outside.  I’m hoping the blind comes in before anyone complains.  In the meantime, at least we have a little privacy.

All of this “adjusting” has led to me not shooting for quite a while.  In fact, it’s now been nearly two weeks since I last had my camera out on a shoot.  This means I needed to come up with some photos to share today.

Thankfully, I have this wonderful feature called Photostream.  By subscribing to Apple’s iCloud service, whenever I take/upload a photo on one device, it automatically appears on all my devices.  That means all the silly photos I snap with my iPhone show up in Aperture on my macbook pro.

As it turns out, I have a whole collection of poor quality, but cute-as-a-button photos of my crazy dog and his girlfriend, Twiggy.  Tisen has been on steroids again for a couple of weeks now.  It makes him a little crazy.  That and having the woman he loves staying with us day in and day out.  He’s started showing off.

He doesn’t need to carry a toy with him when Twiggy is around.  If he takes one with him, he drops it as soon as we get outside and won’t carry it after that.  It’s as if he doesn’t think it’s manly.

While my iPhone photos don’t do the dogs justice, they still make me smile.

Stream of Unconsciousness

Rock City Christmas LightsAU0A7761 AU0A7768 AU0A7777 AU0A7784 Christmas View Kids posing for a photo Waiting in Line

It’s 11:08PM EST. I’m falling asleep as I type. I’ve been up since 5:00AM. At the end of the day, I pulled up the photos I’d processed for tomorrow morning’s post. They are from Rock City when I went up to shoot the Christmas lights.

Several things occur to me as I start typing. First, approximately 3 people will read what I write tonight. Odds are in favor of me being able to get away with saying anything.

In the interest of saying anything, here is an experiment in free writing when one ignores constraints such as basic grammar rules, logic, and even consciousness–who says you have to be awake when you’re writing? Instead, I’ve decided to see what happens when I write while I’m falling asleep.

A black and white dog approaches. The girl squats to get get down to his level.

The dog approaches and feels a pretty special in the most obvious of spots. He doesn’t growl at her–a first in his shot history of co-existing amongst higher-class humans than he was used to.

Instead, the dog takes his place in line, making a formidable barrier between those who would take what they need and those who are happy to earn it. Tisen is all about earnings. He has no comprehension of what we decided years ago for on prem licenses. But we are trying to accommodate.

I have to stop here for a moment, shaking my head trying to clear it of cobwebs to determine if I can possibly finish this point–or, more accurately, to determine if I had a point or if this is just random talk popping up as I nod off while typing. It’s mostly just random.

As I sit with finger tips hovering over key board, I start typing in a stream of consciousness fashion that won’t impact the embarrassment in honor of Christmas.

I imagine telling a partner that we’re releasing a small number of parts and contract agreements .

I re-read and realize I’ve just typed a series of sentences that make me think of collecting automated data details from the set top box of the cable solution. Oops–I’ve done it again–written in a way that sounds like one of those spam comments on wordpress. All this time, I’ve been wondering how they come up with the wording for those. Apparently, all you have to do is type while you’re nodding off.

My back is aching. My hips have had enough. I learn that only FedEx and UPS are handling these expert deliveries. I decide that Santa must have had enough too. After all is there enough “common caring” oil that a grower might be able to offset right before Christmas. Oops, I must have started to nod off while typing again.

Well, this post makes no sense. But, I’d love to know if you noticed. Leave me a comment or a like if you read this.

 

 

Bring on the Parade

Not sure if there's still room to sleep in this camper, but the tree sure looks nice.

Not sure if there’s still room to sleep in this camper, but the tree sure looks nice.

It’s hard for me to look at my parade pictures today.  I remind myself that every child shouldn’t suffer because of the 20 lost on Friday.  Perhaps the loss makes Christmas (or whichever holiday each family celebrates), hope, and cheer that much more important.

I realize the feeling I have is the same one I always get following a tragedy.  It’s best described as “heightened visceralness” (even if it’s not a real word).

Most of the time, I go through life thinking about what I need to do in the next hour, the next day, the next week.  I push aside any bubbling sensations in my stomach, throat, or guts and stay focused on what I need to get done.

In the process of disconnecting from my visceral reactions, I also seem to disconnect from my own life.  I often walk into rooms and wonder why I’m there, fail to realize my husband has come home or left, or drive somewhere without being able to recall any part of the drive.

When I am reminded how tentative life can be, first I choke.  My throat closes, I have trouble breathing.  Then I cry.  Then I am left with rumblings in the pit of my stomach that I suspect are the disquiet of knowing I am doing nothing to change anything.

I have a sneaking suspicion that these visceral reactions happen every day, but until I am literally choked with tears (which doesn’t happen often), I refuse to pay attention to them.

Now that I am paying attention, I am reminded once again that I must pay attention to now.  To the moments I have.  Like the moment I am in right now sitting on the sofa, typing, dog curled next to me with a warm foot pressed against my leg.

To fail to notice each moment because I’m so distracted by the news is to give a piece of my life to a dead gunman in Connecticut when it’s far too late to make a difference.

And so, I close my browser full of news feeds and videos about Sandy Hook elementary.  I pull up the photos I’d prepared for yesterday’s post.  I think of all the smiling children at the Chattanooga Starlight Parade with a warm feeling akin to a mental hug.  I say to myself, “Bring on the parade.”

“And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down.  Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.”

~Gilbert K. Chesterton

That said, here are the next set of photos from the Starlight Parade in downtown Chattanooga.  I’m normally not that excited by cars in a parade.  But, I did enjoy the creative decorations folks came up with.  I especially enjoyed the children around me calling out the names of familiar characters they saw go by.

 

This VW bus makes for a more creative way to enter a float.

This VW bus makes for a more creative way to enter a float.

The lawn mower racing team made a striking night time appearance.

The lawn mower racing team made a striking night time appearance.

Smiles adorned this float.

Smiles adorned this float.

This ancient fire truck hitched a ride so it too could make an appearance in the parade.

This ancient fire truck hitched a ride so it too could make an appearance in the parade.

The Chattanooga Zoo opted for simulated animals instead of live ones.

The Chattanooga Zoo opted for simulated animals instead of live ones.

Not a great shot, but I love thinking about how much more fun the Grinch would have had taking this down the mountain!

Not a great shot, but I love thinking about how much more fun the Grinch would have had taking this down the mountain!

A brightly lit Rudolf adorns this collectible car.

A brightly lit Rudolf adorns this collectible car.