Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Christmas Train and Village 2020

The Z-Guage train is the smallest one made. This one is made in Germany and has the finest detail and motor movement. It can speed along at high speed and not fall off the tracks and it can inch along slowly. I had wanted one for the longest time and finally decided to look for one and luckily found just the right one, two years ago. 

The village changes every year with items culled from my various collections. I like how it looks this year and each year it seems to get better. What makes it fun is that proportion, and scale are completely ignored ENJOY!

Sunday, November 29, 2020

This post is a P.S. to yesterday's post "The Ghosts of Chrismas Past and Christmas Present."

Last night as I was feeling better for having visited the Ghosts, Past and Present, I was still thinking about the more processing and contemplation that I find myself going through more often now a days.

I came up with this sound bite regarding Past, Present, and Future:

The reality is that for me, at 75 years of age, there is more PAST to process then there is FUTURE to look forward to. 

The FUTURE to which we look forward becomes more uncertain and more frightening than previous FUTURES of the PAST!

And the PRESENT with the isolation, fear, suffering, poverty, illness, deaths, and losses from COVID-19 and the STATE OF THE UNION, with its divisions, hatred, lying, cheating, racism, etc. is not the most pleasant place to be right now.

So perhaps GRATITUDE for the good we do have, for our ability to be RESILIENT, for FAMILY and FRIENDS and LOVE and CARING and KINDNESS, for not so much LAMENTING the bad things but CELEBRATING the good, not wondering why things are as they are but rather working on how we think about those things is the ANSWER? 


Saturday, November 28, 2020

The Ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Present

This Papier-màché Nativity was made by Gregory when he was eleven years old. Helen, his mom put it out each Christmas and took good care of it. Shortly after Gregory and I became a couple, she gave it to us, her agency for it having been completed. 

• • • • •

For some reason, this Christmas season has gotten off to a more than usual sad start. I usually have my "Christmas Cry" early in the season, missing all those people with whom I spent the holiday over the years and who made the holiday very important to me. But for some reason this year is different. I will visit the possible reasons later in this essay. 

Close to 50 years ago, Robert, my first lover, and his family introduced me to Christmas and that brought out again the little boy in me. Mom Dorothy and dad Robert Sr., devout Catholics celebrated the holiday fully and accepted me into their family and into their family traditions. Robert used to tell me that my boyish excitement in the glory of Christmas helped rekindle the holiday for them as well. 

Robert's Grandma Anna and her sisters Clara and Frieda all celebrated the traditions reflecting the decades of their raising their families, living with the losses of family, and with their slowly disappearing abilities to execute Christmas in the way they used to. But they were always cheerful, laughing in the kitchen over forgotten ingredients, and pushing themselves to put on the most amazing celebrations I have ever experienced in my adult life.

While I was the token Jew in the group, and while Robert and I were homosexual (in those days when it was not acknowledged or discussed) his family just loved me without qualification. In some ways, I was the son (as is often the usual role of a son-in-law) the Planing Family needed without the history or loading of the usual family relationships.

When Robert and I broke up, I still spent Christmas with him and his family. Slowly my involvement was curtailed as Dorothy and Bob moved away, as Robert and I grew further apart, and the elders grew older. 

I used to visit Grandma Anna at the care facility to which she eventually moved. I would bring a few shopping bags of decorations to convert her room to Christmas and the gifts I gave her were usually of the kind she could regift to her home's friends and staff: for example chocolates, nuts, cookies, etc. Once Bob, Anna's son and Robert's father wrote me a letter telling me that he continued to care for me and appreciated what I did each year for his mother.

The story is similar with Gregory and his family. I loved them. They loved me. And I loved Christmas which was obvious to everyone! I believe that they enjoyed me enjoying Christmas in my characteristic "little boy" manner. We spent most Christmasses with his family in Goshen, Indiana and then Battle Creek, Michigan. In some ways, I was more involved with the Maire Family than my own. Again, I reference the difference to the absence of the baggage of growing up with my own family and the expectations or lack of them, which I erroneously or not, brought along for my own family.

As a teacher, the school year and therefore the months of my life seemed to run from holiday to holiday with creating appropriate bulletin boards, writing season-specific educational activities, and celebrating the holidays with my students including appropriate refreshments. For example, on the first day of winter when it snowed, I would get up extra early to bake chocolate chip cookies and make hot chocolate to bring to my class to celebrate the occasion with my students. I encouraged parents to bring refreshments to class and join us to celebrate the student's birthday. If there wasn't a specific type of food for a specific holiday, I would declare it "Gum Chewing Day" and would provide the first round. 

Gregory and I always decorated our home at Christmas time with an abundance of decorations. Was that Gregory allowing me to do my thing? Partly, but he also loved the holiday. I remember the time we had an eight-foot tree in our first home on Poplar Avenue in Evanston which Gregory painstakingly decorated with over 5,000 miniature white Italian lights. He wove the stands of lights from deep inside the tree to the feathery tips and then back deep again. There were no other decorations on the tree except the tree topper silver star. I can close my eyes and still see and feel that tree.

We always baked cookies, stocked the house with candy, invited people into our home with countless parties, large and small. There was the Jewish Family Party, the Gay Family Party, the Neighbors Party, and when we moved to the condo the later party branched into the Old Neighbors Party and the New Neighbors Party. 

With the onset of Gregory's journey with Dementia, most likely Alzheimer's Disease, we continued the tradition of entertaining for the Christmas and New Year's holidays. Slowly he was able to be of less help and I had to do more. But he enjoyed the parties and while you might think that the crowd of people would be disorienting to him, they were on the contrary energizing. At one point I felt like such an adult when I had my housekeeper Halina come in to help me at the parties.

I always was "beat up" for the week after the parties and Gregory had a more difficult time with "reentry" to his routines after the excitement of the occasions. But it was a wonderful way for me to support Gregory, keep his life active and joyful, and I would do it again if he was still with us.

The last year of his living at home was like a train running away towards a wreck. Gregory's cognition failed and I canceled all our Christmas Parties and deep snow helped me to cancel the New Year's Eve Party without too much guilt. By January 10th he was somewhat successfully ensconced at the Lieberman Memory Care Facility, if any of that can really be successful vs painful but necessary!

Gregory died on October 4, 2015. This year will be five Christmasses which I have spent without him, alone (not that friends and family are not there for me but without Gregory, it still feels alone!) The first year I left our decorations in the closet and purchased a small live tree, brought new lights and ornaments, and baked a few cookies. By the next year I was able to get out the old decorations but with the goal of sending those which no longer held great joy for me on to a new life with families at La Casa Norte.

Even though I pare down my decorations each year, I continue to need to purchase a few new, glorious decorations each year and allow myself that. Last year I bought myself a Z-gauge electric train set. Z-gauge is the smallest made and can fit in a briefcase. I foraged my various collections to create a little village for the train to circle. There is a mirror skating rink with sleds and skaters circling as well.

This year the holidays have been more difficult because of the isolation necessary due to COVID 19. So the annual July 4th party in honor of the birth of Gregory and of our nation was canceled. Halloween and Day of the Dead got decorated but not celebrated and I avoided as much candy as possible. Thanksgiving consisted of all the "tastes of the holiday" picked up at a local restaurant. And now Christmas begins with my decorating the condo on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

I will share photos of what this year's Christmas looks like. I am pleased with how it turned out and it is quite differently arranged than in previous years. Watch for the photos in a future post. 

So while writing all and revisiting this has helped me make me feel better, why has this season felt sadder? COVID 19 is the biggest culprit. So many people are out of work, or ill and dying, or lonely. tRUMP figures in after four years of his making everything into shit with acceleration during his last year in power!

My turning 75 and feeling older is most likely part of the reason. My sister's passing figures in as well. She had a difficult time after a fall and breaking her back and pelvis but she made an amazing recovery and was doing so well. Then she unexpectedly decided the day after her 80th birthday, October 4th, that it was time to die and was complicated by the fifth anniversary of Gregory's having left us. As I get older, holidays seem to be more retrospective and more introspective.

So as I contemplate this Christmas I wonder how many will I have left? Who else might not be around to be part of the celebrations next year? I remember those who have left us. As I unpacked and placed all the decorations I was aware that there would be no one to share them with this year as the COVID 19 self-quarantining continues. I realize that the beautiful stories that are paired with each and every decoration will die with me. 

The memories of Christmases Past, even though filled with love and fondness, leave me feeling sad. Up until this year, there were exciting events to which to look forward, friends with whom to celebrate and spend a dinner or some wine and cheese or some homemade cookies. Not this year. Not during a COVID year! No parties. No visit to see the lights at the zoo and hear the groups singing carols to the animals, no walks through the Botanic Garden with its light show and displays, no shopping with the crowds at the malls, no visits and overnight guests from family, no picking up specialty foods at various grocery stores.

And though it might sound silly, it has always been important to me since my childhood, to buy a few gifts at the drug store like a gift box of lifesavers, or a special ornament for a friend, and from many years gone by, saving my pennies to purchase a cobalt blue bottle of Evening in Paris cologne for my mom. As a more year old, I can still smell it sitting on the couch in the living room of Kedzie Avenue (my childhood home) watching her standing in front of the powder room mirror putting on her apple red lipstick before going out to a party.

Ah, memories!

Thursday, November 26, 2020

An Unexpected Thanksgiving Day Gift


Today is Thanksgiving 2020. So much for which to be grateful and so much for which to grieve loss.

This e-mail showed up today as sent from my website: HTTP://www.horvich.com

Do I need to tell you how it made me feel and how many tears rolled down my cheek before I had to go get a tissue?

Hi, my name is Meredith Schroeder. I’m the art therapist at The Lieberman Center in Skokie. I’ve been working in the building for almost 2 years now. 

On our memory care unit, I run a poetry writing and appreciation group. One of our group members is an avid reader and she brought your poetry book “Sit with Me a While Longer” to our poetry group one day. 

I couldn’t believe the luck! We read your poems that day, and since then this particular group member has found comfort and lots of humor in your poems. We took turns reading many of them for about an hour and half the other day while we held hands. 

All of this to say, that I (and the residents on our memory care unit) really appreciate your work. With everything that is going on in the world, it is wonderful to have something with which residents can connect. 

I feel the content of many of your poems resonates with them even when they are not able to put it into words. 

On a personal note, I thank you for being vulnerable and writing about your experience loving and caring for someone living with Alzheimer’s. I’ve worked with older adults, primarily those experiencing memory issues, and I always value hearing stories of people that know what it’s like. 

Thank you for everything you do.



Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Brava for the Brava

I have been cooking on a Brava Smart Oven since July 2019. To see what it is all about I direct you to their web site: www.brava.com (If you are at all interested in getting one (not the purpose of my posting) let me know as we both get a financial break!)

The Brava lives on my cooktop which I have not used for months. The extra trays and pans live in the oven. Sometimes I use the microwave in conjunction with the Brava meals.

Here is a third compilation of what I have been cooking for breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as a few baked goods. Done with easy management and easy cleanup. A standing ovation to my Brava for keeping me happy and healthy and well-fed.


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