Category Archives: Life

Cupid can wait.

A friend of mine posted the photo below the other day with the caption “Seriously?” and the hashtags #toosoon and #valentinesday.

Seriously? #toosoon #valentinesday

A post shared by Peggy Shanks (@julep67) on


I have to say I agree. The holidays have been encroaching on each other for years now, particularly Christmas. Back in the days of yore (meaning when I was a kid), the Christmas season didn’t officially start until Santa made his appearance at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. These days Christmas decorations appear alongside Halloween candy in drugstores, and I’ve seen Christmas displays in retail outlets as early as August. North America barely finishes paying off the previous Christmas when the next one appears on the horizon.

Now we have Valentine’s Day encroaching on New Year’s Day. I started seeing Valentine candy the day after Christmas. This simultaneously bewilders and annoys me. First, how on earth can anyone keep chocolate around the house for six weeks without eating it? Are they not human? Do they not bleed?

GET in mah BELLEH! (Image: Public domain)

GET in mah BELLEH! (Image: Public domain)

Second, it feeds into what I call the Holidates Phenomenon, wherein single people feel they simply must have a partner to share the holidays with, as evidenced by a crunch in online dating sites between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, followed immediately by another surge right after New Year’s Day.

Call me an ice queen, but I don’t partake. I don’t do online dating regardless, but I also wouldn’t start dating someone I met in the wild during the holidays, either. Although it could be considered romantic to meet someone at that time of year, I’d wonder how much of the romance was based on genuine affection and how much of it was loneliness-avoidance owing to pressure from society, including the constant barrage from the retail sector about “gifts for that special someone.” It seems we move right from mistletoe to roses, without a break from pressure to pair off. Thing is, if I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it 100 times where people get together during the holidays and then break up in early March, so my policy is to just say no between November 1 and February 15.

I much prefer this spin on the tradition.

I much prefer this spin on the tradition. (Image: It’s around.)

At the risk of sounding bitter or rancorous, I haven’t been into Valentine’s Day for at least 25 years, anyway. I think I was 19 the last time it truly thrilled me. Even when I was married or in a relationship, it just seemed to be a manufactured holiday, something to fill the gap between Christmas and Easter. At the very worst, it’s an opportunity for florists and restaurants to price-gouge, and what you get for your money is often lower in quality than what you would have gotten the week before or the week after. I think it’s much better to celebrate personally meaningful dates, like an anniversary or a birthday, and more fun to share an experience together, like going away for a weekend.

So don’t mind me while I sit this one out. You’ll find me in the chocolate aisle the day after Valentine’s. Everything tastes better on clearance.

Far-flung friends.

A friend who is far away is sometimes much nearer than one who is at hand. Is not the mountain far more awe-inspiring and more clearly visible to one passing through the valley than to those who inhabit the mountain?

–Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931)

Last year was my Year of Letting Go, in which I slowly but surely let go of friendships and work relationships that were bringing more stress and negativity into my life than joy or mutual support, or that had simply run their course. It’s not always easy to let go or fade out, but time and energy that you devote to relationships that aren’t working are time and energy you could be devoting to relationships that will. In some ways, the heart is like a hard drive: It has only so much space, and you need to watch out for resource hogs.

While looking for a suitable quote to post with a photo of the Kahlil Gibran Memorial on my Instagram, I came upon the snippet above, and it got me thinking of how I let a few local friendships go in favor of friendships with people who live far away. Part of this is because a few friends in distant places have had access to my personal, private online journal for many years (some going back to 2003), and vice versa. We’ve been with each other through births, deaths, marriages, divorces, remarriages, trauma, illness, healing, job loss, moves, natural disasters, you name it. I’ve met many of them in person, spoken to quite a few of them on the phone, and have had visits and taken trips with several of them. Getting to know each other was effortless, and we get along so well because we had something solid in common from the start—values, life experiences, politics, how we see the world and handle what life throws at us, etc. Hey, if you don’t take a shine to what you read in someone’s journal, there’s no sense in sticking around and forging a rapport.

This is one reason why I pretty much never post photos of myself on the Internet or social media. I prefer to have a meeting of the minds because that’s what’s most important to me in any friendship I form, and for better or worse, pictures lead to presumptions. I’d rather not introduce a prejudice if I don’t have to. Then there are the guys who see a photo of a woman and decide to say something inappropriate. Yeah, no thanks.

Part of the Kahlil Gibran Memorial in Washington, D.C. He would not approve of lewd comments.

Kahlil Gibran wouldn’t post lewd comments. Be like Kahlil Gibran.

But anyway, finding that quote made me think of my faraway friends who know me better than some who lived in a 5-mile radius of me, and better than anyone in my own family ever did. That’s the wonder of the Internet. It has its risks and its flaws, but it enables you to find your people if you use it right. I firmly believe you get two families: The one you’re born with and the one you craft for yourself by filling your sphere with people you love simply because they are who they are, and who love you in return simply because you are you. Distance, like DNA, is a matter of chance.

So here’s to my blog buddies and my fellow MySpace survivors from back in the day, and here’s to my more recent acquaintances and all the possibilities. Now if someone would just invent a teleporter, we could raise a glass.

P.S. Speaking of the Internet, for the love of all that is holy, it’s Kahlil, not “Khalil.”

The Christmas Thunk

I didn’t write yesterday. I’m not willing to consider that a failure, however, because I’m sure at some point I will post two entries in one day and it will all even out.

Thank you to the lovely ladies who clued me in on menfolk and Christmas tree lights. I hold to my litmus for the next chap (if there ever is one), however, especially if he doesn’t do much else in terms of holiday prep.

Not that my ex-husband was a sourpuss. He liked to decorate the tree, just not deal with the lights, and being a budding biology teacher with an interest in paleobotany he knew his trees, so he was great at picking them out. He was also just subversive enough that when Fairfax County passed an idiotic law banning live Christmas trees in apartments back at the turn of the century, he not only announced that we would openly defy the law, we would do so with the biggest, fattest tree we could manage, and so we did. That tree was so fat, we had to rig it up with hooks and twine from the walls and ceiling just to make sure it wouldn’t topple over, because if it did, it might have gone right through the sliding glass doors out onto the balcony and we really didn’t feel like paying for that.

Our defiance of the law resulted in a ganked-up car trunk, however. See, my ex had this little tradition where he saved the part of the tree trunk the vendor cuts off for a “fresh-cut” so the tree can drink. I thought it was a charming tradition, especially because most of the cuts were only about an inch thick. At one point I mused that we should save all of them and figure out a way to paint, shellac, and turn them into ornaments so that by the time we were in our 70s (or I was in my 70s and he was in his 60s because I was cradle-robber like that) we’d have over three dozen ornaments from all of our trees.

So we got our big, fat, law-breaking tree, or, more accurately, he got our big, fat, law-breaking tree and saw to the details while I wandered off to look at all the pretty, sparkling things because I’m a Libra and if there is something nice to look at within a 30-yard radius, I have to go and investigate. Point is, I didn’t see what went on in terms of manly-man Christmas tree things. I hopped into the car, chattering about trimming our first tree as a married couple, and when he made the first turn on our route home, there was a THUNK-thunk-thunk.

We thought it was a flat, but when we pulled over the tires were all fine. No changes in pressure, no weird warping. We hadn’t hit an unfortunate critter or left the tree somewhere on Route 50, either.

Yet every time we made a turn, THUNK-thunk-thunk.


We put up the tree that night (including my doing the lights, thank you very much), and that was that.

George Dubya's tree had nothing on ours.

George Dubya’s tree had nothing on ours.

The next day the tires were still fine and he took the car to work without any problems.

A few days later we went out to do some shopping and there it was again. THUNK-thunk-thunk.

“What the hell IS that?” I said.

“I have no idea.”

“Maybe you should take the car in.”

“Nah, I don’t think it’s anything.”

“Hon, listen to it.  Every time you make a turn, there’s a thunking noise. Has it been doing this all week?”

“Well, yeah, but–”

“Please just take the car in. It’s under warranty.”

“I’ll look at it later. We’re here now, so let’s just do our shopping.”

A short eternity later—I’m convinced that Hell is an outlet mall during the holidays—we emerged from our venture with plenty of gifts to wrap up and send off. He popped the trunk open, and just as I was about to set my shopping bags down, there it was, the source of the THUNK-thunk-thunk.

“Uh, hon?” I said. “What is that?”

“It’s from the tree.”

“The Christmas tree?” I asked, rather stupidly.

“Yeah, from the fresh-cut.”

For lo, before me was not a slim bit of pine to cherish as a keepsake of our first Christmas tree as husband and wife, but a Yule log. No kidding, this thing was about 8 or 9 inches long and about 6 inches in diameter—and every time we made a turn it had rolled around in the trunk, which, when I looked closer, had globs of sap everywhere.

“Okay, well, we’ll throw it out when we get home,” I said.

“What? No! We can’t! It’s from our tree!”

“What are we going to do with that? I mean, really.”

“Save it.”

That was my ex. Mr. Sentimental. But still, sap. Sap everywhere. It was like we were the Tree Mafia and had stashed our victim’s severed limbs for transport to the river.

I looked at him, prepared to make a point about getting sap all over everything every time we had to put something in the trunk.

Okay, now remember what I said about investigating things that were nice to look at? That’s how I ended up with him in the first place, and he stood before me now, huge blue eyes like saucers in his face, and I caved.  Not only did we keep the log in the trunk, we put it in a bag until it dried out, and for the rest of our marriage, every time we turned a corner, THUNK-thunk-thunk. Whenever we drove someone somewhere, they asked what the sound was.

“Did you just get a flat?”

“Did you just hit something?”

“What was THAT?”

And we’d take turns explaining.

“It’s our Yule log. We decided to keep the Christmas spirit all year.”