Peace and a Hula Hoop

“The Chipmunk Song” is a tool of peace. Really.

No, I haven’t had too much eggnog. Perhaps I should explain.

For my wife Heather, the Christmas season doesn’t really start until she hears the Chipmunks Christmas album, including the squeaky-voiced perennial about how much Alvin wants a hula hoop. (Are you hearing it in your head now? I’m sorry.) It’s one of two albums that gets played when we decorate our tree each year, along with my own family’s tradition of “John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together.”

But never mind our tree right now. The really important one in the story is G-ma’s.

“G-ma” was Heather’s Grandma Marilyn. Every year, Heather and her siblings and her mom (and often the rest of us spousal hangers-on) would make the short trek to help put up her tree. There’d be stories and ornaments and minor chaos and everything else you’d expect at such an occasion.

And, at Heather’s insistence, there would also be “The Chipmunk Song.” Because one does. And because G-ma’s laughter and smile at it never changed.

Time passed. And so did G-ma.

As I mentioned in an earlier column, we lost Marilyn in July. It left a hole. It always does when love and memories have grown strong. When the memories belong to a loving, strong-willed and lively soul, that hole gets even bigger.

Especially at the holidays.

There’s something about the season of togetherness that makes the empty chair stand out even more. And when December arrived, it felt off-balance without G-ma’s tree.

So Heather’s family put one up anyway.

A small tree. By the graveside. Decorated, of course. And there in the cold, Heather’s sister decided there was still just one thing missing.

At her suggestion, Heather pulled out her phone. And soon, the tinny strains of “The Chipmunk Song” were pealing out once more.  

All was right.

And that, at its heart, is the picture of peace.

We often misuse the word, shouting “give me some peace!” when a situation gets too loud or contentious. Peace becomes a simple end to conflict, by whatever means, a way of restoring quiet and keeping order.

But there’s an older meaning. One that’s still in the backdrop of a hundred Christmas carols. As a friend of mine likes to note, in old Greek the word means an interweaving, the connections between others that create harmony. When those connections are strong, when all is as it should be, peace reigns.

That’s a powerful gift. One we need badly.

We’re good at dividing, great at shouting, not always so good at listening. Peace demands that we listen, learn and try to understand. That we see those around us as our strength, not our burden. It calls on us to reach out, lift up, and make each other whole.

It’s not always a quiet process and rarely a simple one. But when we honor those connections, we make something beautiful. A beginning. A space. Something that binds us all, even if it’s in the tones of a novelty Christmas song.

The hula hoop is just a bonus.

May peace find you all. In all its meanings. Together, we just may be able to evoke, with a slight alteration, another, older song.

All is calm.

All is right.

Simply G-ma

“Do you want to know what G-ma left us?” Heather said with a smile. “A bookcase.”

My smile matched hers.

“Of course she did.”

It fit, and not just because our home has a minor over-abundance of volumes. (In the same way that Taylor Swift has a minor bit of popularity right now.) Like that bookcase, Heather’s Grandma Marilyn was the starting point for a lot of stories … the kind you write together.

About a week ago, those stories turned a final page.  

G-ma was gone.

We’d known it was coming for a long time. Nothing fell out of a clear blue sky. We had time and beyond to prepare, to show love yet again, to leave no regrets or what-if’s behind. In a way, it didn’t matter. When a life of love gets removed, it feels like someone took scissors to a yearbook photo – you can tell by the hole that someone should be there.

And G-ma was quite a someone.

There’s an old joke that in Reporter Language, the word “feisty” means “short, female.” Marilyn fit both the joking description and the real one, a small lady with a strong backbone and an open heart. She could be stubborn in the best possible way, ready to stand for and with the people she cared about … but also to be knowingly silly in a way that only the truly fearless can be.

We always got along. In fact, we hit it off so well that she wanted to make sure Heather never lost me. “Make sure you make him pot roast,” she told her early in our marriage, a bit of 1950s love language that still sets us both laughing at the memory of it.

I don’t even like pot roast. But I love the heart that offered it.

She played piano well but always wanted to hear me instead when we visited. A frozen pizza served as the centerpiece for many a conversation, often while a pet bird sang out in the background. Helping put up the G-ma’s Christmas tree was an unbreakable tradition, no matter what else might be happening in the world.

Simple things.

But the simplest of all was that Marilyn listened. Fiercely.

She didn’t always agree. (I did mention the stubbornness, right?) But she always listened, not just waiting her turn in the conversation but actively considering what you said. She wanted to understand, to know, to hear.

Heather carries that same trait. It’s not always an easy one. It lowers your shields and leaves you open to the hurt of others, a hurt you sometimes can’t do much to heal. But it also opens you up to their passions, their wonder, their delight in life. When you listen, the world becomes more than a vague outline – it becomes real people in all their pain and glory.

When we listen, we truly become a “we.”

It’s a gift often absent these days. But it can be recovered at any moment, any time when we’re willing to move the focus off our own self. That, too, is not easy. But it’s essential.

By taking those moments, we bring a bit of someone else inside us. When we do, it means that no one’s ever truly gone. We keep them alive and pass them on, touching lives as we were touched.

So maybe the story of G-ma isn’t really over. It’s just up to us to write the sequel.

 Thank you, Marilyn. For the bookcase. For the moments. For the life well-spent.

And don’t worry. We may just make that pot roast yet.

Beyond the Limits

Once upon a time, 2010 was the Parenthood Year. 

No, not the Steve Martin movie. Rather, that’s the year all our grown sisters started becoming parents and my new job title became Uncle Scott.  We welcomed our niece Ivy into the world that July, followed by our niece Riley in September and our nephew Gil right before Christmas. 

Well. far be it from us to buck a trend. That Thanksgiving, Heather and I stepped up with an announcement of our own. 

“We’ve decided to move in with Missy.” 

And by April 2011, the world would never be the same. 

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If you’re new here, you might not have met Missy yet. She’s the disabled aunt of my wife Heather, a woman who’s about my age physically but much younger in mind and heart. She also frequently graces this column as an artist, a dancer, a softball star and a ruthless Candy Land player, but that’s another story. 

This month marks 12 years since we began taking care of her. And like many first-time parents of whatever kind, we had no idea what we were getting into. 

We learned. Oh, did we learn. 

We learned that a grinning “Uh-oh!” meant something mischievous had just happened, like hiding a book in the linen closet or a toy in the laundry chute. 

We learned that “Mom” was a job title that could be addressed to either of us and that my other name was apparently “Frank” (the name of her late dad). 

Out of necessity, we learned how to get paint out of cloth (mostly), how to smile when out-of-season Christmas carols were replayed for the 57th time and how to hide a broken purse so it could finally be replaced. We discovered just how magical bedtime books can be, wandering from secret gardens to hobbit holes and beyond. 

Most of all, we learned we could do it. Even on the days when we thought we couldn’t. 

And that may be the most valuable and challenging lesson of all. 

===

Most of us have a pretty solid self-portrait. We like to think we know who we are and what we’re capable of. The trouble is, once we’re past the age of six or so, that picture tends to include a lot of don’ts and can’ts. 

“Oh, I can’t draw a straight line to save my life.” 

“Green thumb? More like a black thumb.” 

“You don’t want me in the kitchen; I think I burned soup once.” 

I’m guilty of it, too. And the trouble is, it becomes self-perpetuating. When you think you can’t, you don’t. Your skills never become sharper and the next failed attempt becomes proof instead of an opportunity. 

But sometimes it’s not as impossible as it seems. 

The one that Heather and I hear most is “Oh, I could never do what you do.” These days, that always has us scratching our heads. Do what? Be a family? That’s a job all three of us take on daily. And sure, some days are harder than others … but when has that not been true for anybody? 

The job that once looked so big from the outside – that frankly had me nervous as heck at the start – turned out to be quite different when it became a life. And a pretty cool life at that. 

Twelve years since we joined the parenthood parade. We’re not ready to surrender yet.

No matter how many times I end up crying “Uncle.” 

Dis-pursed

Reality has been shaken.

OK, I know that’s nothing new. After all, we’re still grappling with an ever-shifting pandemic. UFOs and artificially intelligent chatbots have made this year’s headlines look like a science fiction blockbuster. And the Broncos haven’t been to the playoffs since 2015. But this is big.

Missy’s purse has left the storyline.

A sign of the apocalypse, indeed.

You may be new here. If so, suffice to say that for our disabled ward Missy – my age physically, but much younger inside – a Big Red Purse has been her constant companion since before Heather and I were married. It’s a pairing on the level of Han Solo and Chewbacca, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, or even Taylor Swift and breakup songs. That serious.

But the world shifted on its axis a couple of months ago when a weekend cleanup uncovered an ancient treasure – a forgotten bottle of pop beads, a little larger than a football. We dusted it off and passed it over, figuring the rediscovery would fill a quiet afternoon.

Click.

That Bottle O’ Beads™ has become Missy’s new sidekick. At any given moment, her hands are likely to be busily screwing the lid on or off (or at least attempting to) and then quietly assembling and breaking down a new string of beads. Her need to fidget and her love of arts and crafts seems to have found its natural crossroads.

Pop. Pop. Pop.

It has its advantages. The old purses attracted material like a black hole – stuffed animals, small books, acres of Kleenex and the proverbial Partridge in a Pear Tree – eventually reaching a level of density that weighed down her shoulder and wore out the strap. (Any rumors that we occasionally helped the strap along will be officially denied at the next press conference.) Missy’s new friend is a lot lighter, even if it does sometimes need an Official Sherpa to carry it up and down the stairs for her while she holds on to the bannisters.

For a while, I kept looking for The Purse Returned to make a reappearance, chosen from among the many in her closet. Missy’s habits tend to set themselves pretty firmly, after all.  But this seems to be a lasting shift. For now, anyway.

A contradiction? Not really. All “lasting” things have a way of being temporary, depending on where you set the scale.

But it always shakes us a little, doesn’t it? Maybe even more than a little.  

Sometimes it’s just an annoyance, like a style that shifted or a tech that moved on.  (“I have a cabinet full of VHS tapes, what do you mean I can’t find a VCR anymore?”) Other times, it touches us a little more deeply. New discoveries, for better or worse, about a friend we thought we knew. Changes in work, in life or in the world that force us to redefine who we are. We grapple with unexpected concepts, including one that should be no surprise at all: that “normal” is just what we’re used to. And that’s a very, very fragile thing indeed.

That doesn’t mean we can’t try to preserve the things worth keeping. But it does mean we can’t set our feet in concrete. However appealing consistency may sound (and I’m right there with you), we have to be ready to adapt. Kids grow up. Worlds change. And yes, even purses come and go.

Funny thing about pop beads. There’s always a new way to assemble them. No matter what pieces happen to come to your hand.

Maybe Missy’s on to something.

I’ll just have to see what pops up next.

A Partridge in a WHAT?

I have a lot of sympathy for “The 12 Days of Christmas.”

Well, not so much the song itself, unless it’s sung by John Denver and a horde of Muppets. But the guy who keeps sending all this stuff – flocks of birds, hired entertainers, maybe a bit of jewelry – gets an understanding nod of the head for me.

You see, he clearly has no idea what his true love wants for Christmas. But he’s bound and determined to keep trying until he gets it right.

I think most of us would call that “the holidays as usual.”

Even in the age of Amazon, venturing into the holiday season seems to require the strategic acumen of a general, the adaptability of Star Trek’s Borg and the courage of a quarterback facing half a ton of charging linebackers. After a while, the process begins to feel like one of those middle-school math problems: “So if part 2 of your gift is traveling 1000 miles in five days, but part 1 can cover the same distance in four to seven …”

It’s a formula for merry chaos, even when you know each other well. (Witness the year that Heather and I gave each other the same Muppet movie.) And it gets still more challenging when you add kids to the equation.

Heather and I have half-a-dozen nieces and nephews, all but one of whom are older than pre-school but younger than 13. This puts them all firmly in the Danger Zone of gift giving, where safety lies in answering three questions correctly:

  1. What are they interested in now? (As opposed to last year or maybe even last month.)
  2. What do they already have?
  3. What did Grandma and Grandpa already give them before you even saw the list? (Answer: everything.)

A Las Vegas gambler would tremble at those odds.

And yet, we usually navigate the seas pretty well. Part of it comes from a decent memory of what it’s like to be a kid. Still more of it comes from heavy leaning on the Parental Intelligence Agency, reporting out detailed analyses to would-be family Santas since 2010.

But the biggest reason it generally works out is that the best gifts have already been given. Long before Christmas, in fact.

We’ve given sleepovers. And chats. And out-of-state D&D sessions over Zoom. We’ve had the chance to see them learn and grow (sometimes at a distance of hundreds of miles) and for them to know us as more than just names on a package label.

That’s more precious than even five golden rings. After all, the presents you give may come and go (and come again if you didn’t update the Amazon list). But the presence you give lasts.

That’s the love that lights the season. And well beyond.

I hope the 12 Days guy eventually figured that out. I know a lot of my friends and family have. When you’ve given yourself, you’ve given what matters. The packages and presents are just a bonus.

And if those presents include 12 drummers drumming and 11 pipers piping, I sure hope you included some Excedrin, too.  

Into the Depths

Some journeys call for a special kind of hero.

One doesn’t just walk into Mordor … without a pair of brave and compassionate hobbits, anyway. Going to Oz calls for some Kansas common sense. And if you’re going where no man has gone before, it helps to have some Enterprising people along.

But all those pale before the adventure that starts with one simple question:

“Missy, where did the stuff I just had on the table go?”

And so begins the Plunge Into Missy’s Purse.

If you’re a long-time reader here, you may already be shuddering. For the newcomers: Missy, our developmentally-disabled ward, goes nowhere without her purse. (Trust me, it would be easier to separate Indiana Jones from his whip.)  Like a Joseph Campbell hero, it has had a thousand faces over the years, ranging from a tiny satchel to an oversized beach bag.

But a few things remain constant. They’re almost always red. They usually have a working shoulder strap (for a while). And they attract everything nearby like a miniature black hole.

So when something I’d left out for a visitor abruptly vanished between one moment and the next – well, it didn’t take Lieutenant Columbo, right? Especially since Missy the Everlastingly Curious had already been interrupted while trying to send it to Purseland earlier.

“Honey, can I have that for a second?”

And so began a quest worthy of Don Quixote … or at least Oscar the Grouch.  Patient exploration unveiled:

  • Two stuffed animals (among the few things to ever escape the Purse Event Horizon for brief periods)
  • Cards from at least three different games
  • The cover of a Random House book – just the cover, mind you.
  • Papers and programs from a dozen different activities.
  • A pocketbook and two plastic bags filled to bursting with random items of their own.
  • The Ark of the Covenant, a lost Shakespeare play, two turtledoves and a partridge in a pear tree.

You get the idea. Just about anything and everything was there for the finding it seemed … except the thing we were looking for.  But there didn’t seem to be anywhere else for it to go, at least not in this corner of the space-time continuum.

Except …

“Scotty?” my wife Heather asked. “What about my purse?”

Bingo. Prevented from using her own Satchel of Many Things, Missy had decided to be helpful and leave it for Heather. Without telling anyone, of course. (Maybe we should have called the Lieutenant after all.)

I had to chuckle. Every quest, of course, has to include a valuable lesson. And this was one that I’d seen in the larger world more than once – namely, that “help” sometimes isn’t.

So many of us are quick to help a person or a problem and that’s wonderful. But sometimes we’re too quick – we don’t stop to think about what the situation actually needs. At best, that can mean a lot of wasted effort, like the folks who self-mobilize at a disaster against instructions. At worst, it can even be actively harmful.

It helps to start with what I didn’t do … examine assumptions. By asking, listening and thinking ahead, we can be the help that’s welcomed instead of one more distraction.

It sounds simple. It is simple. And if more of us keep it in mind, it can make any task a lot easier.

In fact, you might even say it’s in the bag.  

What Counts … And What Not To

In “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Douglas Adams declared that the answer to life, the universe and everything was 42.

So this year, maybe Heather and I have all the answers – but we’ve got them exactly backward.

Yes, it’s official.  The charming couple of Chez Rochat has logged 24 years together.  Twenty-four years since a brief moment of sunshine on a rainy day, with my hair refusing to stay down as we said “I do” in a friend’s garden.  

Fast forward to the present. My hair stays down perfectly now – mostly due to lighter population density. We’ve lived in four different places, only to end up just down the street from two of my childhood homes.

And after all this time, we’re still grabbing for moments of sunshine anywhere we can find them.

It’s weird to look back like this. At 24 years, a marriage has started to go beyond “Aww, congratulations!” and begun to reach “Wow, really?” You’ve gotten past all the bizarre anniversaries you used to joke about – the paper anniversary, the tin anniversary, even the yes-it-exists furniture anniversary – but you’re still a year away from reaching the ones that everyone’s heard of. You know: the silver, the golden, the diamond, the bearer bonds and so on.

I suppose that’s not all bad. After all, if you haven’t quite reached your silver anniversary yet, you can still lay claim to being crazy kids, right? Right?

Well, it was worth a try.

But it does sound strange to say “24 years of marriage” when in your head, you’re still 25. In a way, time stopped on our wedding day. I guess it does for a lot of people. Oh, the days go by with plenty to fill them. But it’s like driving across the plains on I-70; there’s no obvious clue to tell you how far you’ve gone until you happen to check the mileage.

And once you do, you wonder how the car’s kept running this long.

But maybe it’s just in how you look at it.

If you’re a Broadway fan, you probably know the song “Seasons of Love” from Rent. It famously opens with the phrase “525,600 minutes ….” Which sounds pretty gargantuan until the song reminds you that it’s just one year.

More than half a million minutes. But we’re not counting the minutes. We’re living the year.

And at the other end, we’re rarely counting the years. We’re living the days. Live enough of them, well enough, and the minutes and years take care of themselves.

I know, I know, easier said than done. Even at our first anniversary, Heather and I were joking about “When does the ‘in health’ part start?” Over the years, we’ve weathered disasters, mourned family, stacked up medical bills like a game of Jenga, and watched a leaking ceiling “rain” all over our kitchen table.

But we’re still standing. A lot of times, we’re even smiling. Sure, sometimes we’ve had to fight for every bit of sunlight. Sometimes we’ve been going on a mixture of routine and caffeine just to make it through the day. But we keep reaching for the next day. And the next. And the next.

Reach for enough of them and it can be pretty amazing. Maybe even amazing enough to rival life, the universe and everything.

Maybe when we reach 42, we’ll know the answer for sure. But for now, it’s enough to be looking for it together.

For now, this answer’s pretty fantastic. Backward or not.

Holmes is On The Case

I’m constantly amazed at how fast Holmes’ mind works. He’s capable of amazing leaps. And once something catches his interest, he’ll stop at nothing to pursue it.

No, not Sherlock Holmes, the Great Detective.  Holmes Rochat, the Great New Dog.

Yes, for the first time in way too long, we’ve got a dog in the family again. Small-ish. Black. One year old. About as mixed as a mixed breed can be. And one of the fastest learners I’ve ever seen on four feet (or maybe even two).

Mind you, some of that is in contrast to what’s come before. Duchess the Wonder Dog was brilliant – as a combination of border collie and Lab, she could hardly be anything else – but also quite timid from some bad early experiences before we got her. Big Blake was 85 pounds of solid muscle, including his head: loving, devoted, but not exactly a canine Einstein.

With Holmes, we’re learning how to do this all over again. Largely because he’s so ready to learn himself.

Maybe it’s because he’s so young. Maybe his previous owner worked with him a bit. But Holmes listens.  Not always perfectly: we’re still working on concepts like “vets can be trusted,” “grass isn’t edible,” and “a flying hug isn’t the perfect greeting for all occasions.” But for the most part, he listens. He tries to do what you tell him. And he’s steadily forming a picture of the do’s and don’ts.

That’s awesome. And a little terrifying.

It always is when you have the power to be the Example.

“Into the Woods” put it well, with its closing advice to parents everywhere:

“Careful the things you say, children will listen,

Careful the things you do, children will see … and learn.”

We teach constantly. Not just in the conscious lessons like helping a dog learn to “sit” or a child learn to count and read, but in the thousand different ways we meet the world.

When someone shoves a dog roughly from their lap, they teach it to be fearful, even around those it should love.

When someone claims to love their neighbor but greets actual people with contempt or neglect, they teach that their word can’t be trusted … or worse, that it’s OK to mistreat those you say you love.

With our example, we teach what’s acceptable and who’s accepted, whether it’s by passing a law or paying a bill. (Dave Barry refers to the latter as the Waiter Rule: “If someone is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, they are not a nice person.”) We teach what we want to see by how we behave … and too often, we find the lessons coming right back at us, learned perfectly.

 If we want to see respect or compassion, we need to show it.

If we want to see justice, we need to confront injustice.

And if we want a nation that values everyone in it, we need to look at who’s being left out.

It starts with the small, daily actions. That’s how a dog learns it’s loved. That’s how a child learns it’s valued. It’s how a world learns the way we see it.

Big thoughts from a small dog, I know. And for now, that’s where my own attention is: watching Holmes chase butterflies, explore his new home, and learn just how much his new family loves him.

It seems so simple to put it that way.

Maybe even elementary.

By the Light’s Early Dawn

Ok. I’m officially one of Those People.

No, not a Raiders fan. (I do have my standards, you know.)

No, I haven’t started changing lanes without a turn signal.

And no, I haven’t been forgetting to take my mask off when I’m alone in the car. Not for more than one or two blocks, anyway.

This is something far more serious.

Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Scott Rochat … and I am an Early Christmas Decorator.  

(Ow! If you’re going to throw cranberry sauce at me, take it out of the can first, OK?)

To be fair, this goes against a LOT of my early training. From childhood on, family and employers made it clear that Thanksgiving was the demarcation line that must not be crossed. Even now, my folks deck the halls beautifully, but not until well into December.

So how did we come to violate the Turkey Truce?

I’d love to blame Missy for this, but for once, she’s innocent. Relatively so, anyway. If you’ve met her in this space before, you know that our ward has no fear of blaring out some holiday tunes in the middle of June if the mood strikes her. This year was no exception – but the Veterans Day tree in the window was not her fault.

That started with my wife Heather.

Well, in all honesty, it started with 2021. And more than a bit of 2020 as well.

I think we can all agree that these last two years have been  … what’s the word? Stressful? Frustrating? Flaming dumpsters full of near-apocalyptic wretchedness? (I know, that’s more than one word. Go with me here.) Certainly there have been some amazing moments – any time period where Grumpy Bernie turns into a meme can’t be all bad – but  for the most part, it’s been a slog. Through a swamp. That’s on fire. And filled with bear traps.

Within Chez Rochat itself, this is the year we lost our oldest pet. And our youngest pet. We racked up way too many medical emergencies, even by Heather’s standards. Not to mention … but no, I won’t mention. You’ve got your own tales of family exhaustion and you probably don’t need to be burdened down by mine.

Suffice it to say, there’s been a lot of darkness. And darkness needs light.

So we kindled some.

Two weeks early for the calendar. But just in time for us.

And I know we’ve got company.

It’s a human reflex. Almost every winter holiday I can think of involves kindling lights.  It’s an act that pushes back against the growing night, creating beauty out of shadow. When reflected by snow, the light grows still stronger, reaching out to embrace all who see it.

In a cold time, it’s a promise that we’re still here. That we can still hope.  

That’s no small thing.

Joy, love, peace, hope – those aren’t qualities for just one time of year, to be packed up in a cardboard box when reality returns. They’re survival traits. We pick a time to make them more visible so they’re not forgotten, but they always belong. And in times like this, they’re more essential than ever.

So if this year, giving thanks is mixed with your holiday cheer of choice, I won’t blame you. Quite the opposite.

Let there be lights. And trees. And hearts with the strength and desire to raise spirits. Whatever you do, however you do it … if you’re helping hold back the dark this year, you’re family.

Yes, even the Raiders fans.

Points of Light

It’s Birthday Month at Chez Rochat. And that usually means something special ahead.

First, a point of clarification. We don’t actually celebrate the entire month. That tends to be September, the golden month that seems to have kick-started half of my wife’s family, including Heather, her sister, her late grandfather, one of our nieces and possibly her fairy godmother for all I know. (If anyone’s seen that fairy, by the way, would you mind having her give us a call? I’m pretty sure she’s holding our lottery tickets.)

No, Birthday Month belongs to Missy, the developmentally disabled aunt we care for who’s been the star of many a column here. She’s an October lady, but the date we celebrate tends to jump all over the map. Still, she knows that when we hit this time of year, special things happen.

There’s been the Year of the Pink Bowling Ball, which Missy unwrapped and joyously lifted to the sunlight, both of them glowing like the climax of a fantasy novel.

There was the Bieber Birthday, when Missy’s temporary obsession with a certain Canadian pop star was rewarded with a cardboard stand-up at the party.

And of course, there was the Day of the Dancing, when a certain milestone birthday (never mind which one) turned into a musical marathon. Missy spent 98% of it on the dance floor, while the rest of us just tried to keep up with her.

Some years have been quiet, others have received NASA-level planning. But there’s always something to remember.

This year, it might just be the Lite Brite.

For those who haven’t met that old classic, Lite Brite is a children’s light board with colored pegs for creating pictures and designs. Missy got a set this year from her brother Jeff and his wife Meg, who know her far too well.

You see, as I mentioned a couple of columns ago, Missy likes temporary art. And few things are more temporary than a Lite Brite paper template. You fit the paper onto the screen. You punch each peg into its spot on the paper, like “B” for blue. And once you punch through, that spot is gone. The result is a beautiful design and a thoroughly perforated former set of instructions.

From all this, you get two basic results.

First, you learn to appreciate each point of light as you create it. You might not be able to do it the same way twice.

Second, unless you’re really good about stocking up on refills, you’re eventually going to have make your own designs.

Simple lessons. But lasting ones. Especially these days.

If we’ve learned anything in these last couple of years, it’s that change can come quickly. Old ways of doing things get transformed, old assumptions overturned. It’s been a time of uncertainty as we look to see what comes next, and that’s never a comfortable place to be.

In times like these, we become aware of how fragile our moments are. It becomes more important than ever to see them, notice them, appreciate them while they’re there.

And if we want to perpetuate them, we’re going to have to find the patterns ourselves.  Working point by point, not always sure if the image we’re making will be beauty or chaos.

But each step is another point of light in the darkness. Hopeful in itself, helpful in what it may become. And that’s a gift to cherish.

Maybe even one as marvelous as a pink bowling ball.