Monthly Archiv: December, 2014

Grateful lists, surprises, and holy days.

Me Contemplating life post Christmas gift . . . or, "Aged Angel," by Odilon Redon

Me Contemplating possible post Christmas regrets from the gift I chose . . . also technically known as, “Aged Angel,” by Odilon Redon

 

I’m sitting around feeling grateful for odd tidbits. We’ve found styles I can manage for the girls’ hair, my husband gets up in the night to add wood to the fire, my son is learning to say I’m sorry properly, my daughter’s whole self lights up with joy when she sings, my other daughter dances glory hallelujah because life pleases her, my son worked after school for days and days to have all his own money to spend for Christmas this year . . . and I had a mother who trained me to write grateful lists year round.

In a first this year, I have a present from me to everybody.  Although my husband reads the blog, the fact that he is easily distracted will work in my favor. From now until Christmas, every time he gets a free minute on his computer, I’ll point to the mistletoe in the kitchen. That or ask him a question about football.

They all know I’m picking up a 4′ x 8′ board today to complete my present, but nobody can guess what it is. I got a ping pong set (net, paddles, balls) that hooks to any size table. My plan is to put felt on the bottom of the board and then paint the top. Wala enlarged ping pong table to sit on top of the kitchen table when we feel like it.

My secret is protected largely by my fanaticism about balls in the house. They are not allowed to be tossed, juggled, banged, bopped, thrown, kicked or dribbled. Boy one has probably put in a 1000 hours of work or so in his fourteen years paying for his ball infractions. He has lost balls to the heel of my foot or to a sleight of hand whereby they end up deep sixed in the garbage can. Possibly a few tennis balls have been cut in half. None of the family would dream something as outlandish as me voluntarily introducing balls into my kingdom.

Wish me well. If I can wrap strips of sheet around my mouth and duct tape my rear end to a chair, I think they’ll have a lot of fun. I imagine it will feel like something akin to finding out the drinking age is lower half an hour away, only they’ll be in their own kitchen living the wild life.

I offer prayers for each of you as Advent draws to a close.  Barring a sudden need to post, I’m taking time off from the blog until January 2nd (or 5th, I can’t decide). A merry and blessed Christmas and New Year’s to everyone. May you be richly blessed in the days ahead. Heading into Christmas, you are all most definitely on my grateful list.

Shocking weather forecast predicts droplets of water will be bringing Christmas cheer in lieu of snow. Say it ain't so.

Shocking weather forecast predicts droplets of water will be bringing Christmas cheer in lieu of snow.  Gulp.

Small Conversations

A Tranquil Winter Forest at Dusk, by Louis Apol

A Tranquil Winter Forest at Dusk, by Louis Apol

The snow brings its joy in tiny thrills. I love the wood stove.I love the whole world singing new. Trees stand gloriously enrobed. Even garbage sparkles along the path. Best of all are the footprints. In most seasons, whoever has gone before me does so in secret. Yet footprints are now one of the chief pleasures of my walks. Highways of creatures cross my own. I can’t be sure of who is whom, but yesterday I counted at least five separate creatures in abundance crossing at one place or another the snow I was walking.

I pray in fits and starts, on my walks and otherwise. Mostly, I am lousy at it. I manage a sentence or two or three, get distracted and start again only to find my mind wandering in yet another direction. I go for months with the discipline of regularity then slip softly off the wagon unable to get back on. It’s an off the wagon stretch with a string of failed attempts to climb aboard again right now.

The world seems such a serious place. Rome is always burning in one way or another, and it’s Advent after all. Hardly the time for cessation of communications. My shortcomings frustrate me at the same time I struggle to force myself out the door to the woods, where it’s infinitely easier to talk. Yesterday as I tromped through the snow, I had in mind it was a good time to send up some official supplications, but the usual distractions cut them short.

Inside, that bothers me. Out there, not so much; what I do or say doesn’t seem to matter. Especially in winter’s forests, there are little invisible hand-built bridges between the lowly here and grand there. With trees towering on all sides, it is difficult to feel alone. Some prayers I didn’t work to say yesterday.

“You make good feet,” I said. And later admiring yet another set of prints, “Really, they’re exquisite. Especially with feet, you are amazing.”

The sky did not rain angels. Birds did not softly circle my head, and there was nothing to cross off a list.

Perfection and expectation, O foolish impostors for grace, get thee hence. If I can get on my coat and my boots, the great conversation awaits.

Medusa vs. Grace

Medusa painted on a leather jousting shield from Wikicommons

Medusa painted on a leather jousting shield from Wikicommons. (Found this elsewhere listed as a painting by Caravaggio) Either way . . . thank you public domain.

We took the whole family for a day of Christmas shopping this past weekend. Due to my previously mentioned disorder, we have shopped other years only in fits and starts, often making gifts and designating someone to pick up requested items. For no reason, this year was different. We loaded into the car for the hour and a half drive with list of locations and addresses in hand.

Around midday, we found ourselves at bookstore. While we browsed, a very distraught customer came in. A mistake had been made. The store owed her money, apologies, and prompt attention. The clerk answered kindly that it was Saturday and unfortunately the manager would not be in until Monday.

This news was met with rage and rising voice. I began looking for the children, wondering how to get them out the door before things got uglier. The clerk was undaunted in her warm and gracious demeanor. I got as far as having Boy one get Girl two to the car so at least we wouldn’t add to the unfolding scene with a display of toppled merchandise.

I tried to focus on novelty pens while emotional woman demanded immediate restitution for whatever had transpired on her credit card. Other shoppers waited in line. Ignoring the ongoing kindness of the clerk, the woman continued to argue the irrelevance of the manager’s absence. Here was a receipt, here was a copy of the credit statement . . .

In a voice that had miraculously lost not an ounce of patience, the clerk agreed to look at the documents presented. After that it got very quiet and the woman began to stammer in mortification. The store had not made a mistake. She had. She apologized beside with embarrassment and shame.

Nothing to worry about, said the clerk. It was an easy mistake to make. It happens to all of us, she added.

At this point, I ceased shopping and stared (one hopes with a modicum of stealth). Not sure what to do next, angry shopper on the verge stood repeating her wonder that this had happened. Curly white haired clerk walked around from behind her counter with open arms. Clerk scooped shopper gently into a hug that lasted long enough to speak kind words quietly and wait. Released by love, shopper walked off slowly almost speechless except for quiet thank you.

A witness to love’s raw beauty, I left in tears, amazed.

More Propositions

Scotland Forever.By Lady Butler. 1881

Scotland Forever.By Lady Butler. 1881

Last week I sat with tea drinkers and tried to share the notion that some days I find myself looking forward to being a grandmother. I don’t actually want my 14 year old son involved in reproduction. What I want is relationships where I don’t have to worry about messing up the kids if I do it wrong.

I have an issue with fear, I said. The fear of getting it wrong is exhausts me. Distracted by the notion of a forty-two year old wanting to be a grandmother, everyone laughed. This did not feel pleasant because I wasn’t trying to be funny.

I have been around this bush before. Twenty dollars says I’ll be around it a few more times before the race is done. But as my husband would say, it is what it is.

What stayed with me in the years since I saw the movie, “The Nativity,” was not about the beauty of the birth. What struck me was what a terrifying time and place it all occurred in. Bethlehem under Roman rule was a very bad birthing location. A baby savior for a world drunk on power and violence was a scary idea.

I know my fear is behind much of my tendency to overreact to things, but I don’t know how to let go of it. I have this picture in my head. On one side is a hundred warriors with spears, soldiers on horses charging, and all the ugliness of the world today. Which one is coming at me changes, what doesn’t change is in front of me. A little boy with chocolate skin and bushy curls is smiling, playing in the dirt, and asking me to believe the impossible.

It has always seemed like letting go of fear would be ceasing to feel afraid. The choice is starker and it takes my breath away. The soldiers are real. So is the baby. I’m choosing sides in a battle. Soldiers with weapons vs. lone baby with loin cloth. Stories about the power of love vs. hate seem a tenuous nail on which to hang my hat with angry men charging.

Everything, I realize, comes down to this. Not after fear is behind me, but precisely while it’s rising up. While my throat is tightening and my body is trembling. Then. Now. Against all logic, I can choose the baby. For better or for worse, I can let a flexing two year old be all that stands between me and my deepest fears.

Behold, the propositions of Advent.

Contagious Determination

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We’ve talked about switching chicken duties from Boy two to Girl two but height has held us back. I sent Girl two for the eggs the other day only to realize that no one tall enough to open the coop door for her was outside.

“It doesn’t matter. I can do it,” she said.

“How are you going to open the door?” I said.

“I think I know a way,” she said. “If it doesn’t work, I’ll come back.”

Off she tromped in snow pants, coat and boots. A few minutes later, she was back with two containers of eggs and a very big smile.

“My idea worked,” she said.

I walked out to the driveway to see for myself the wheelbarrow she had found and parked by the door so she could climb up high enough to unlatch the door. Girl two is now officially responsible for chickens.

 

It was the wheelbarrow and Girl two I had in mind when I set out to plow the driveway. The tractor I usually use is out of commission for the winter, my husband was away at work, and I had driven the “new,” tractor only once for a few minutes in the summer. But how hard could it be? I said to myself donning my outdoor gear.

I found the key, found the lever I was 95% sure would make the plow move up and down, and then sat troubled. Knobs and levers have a way of multiplying when you’re not sure what they’re good for. In my particular mind they also take on explosive qualities. As in, I panic that I will touch something in combination with something else that everyone knows that you never do, only since I am doing it because I don’t know, it will cause the tractor to blow up.

Except for the blowing up anxiety, I really wanted to start that tractor. Since he knows very well I’m not that confident on how to drive the thing, visions of a plowed driveway to greet my husband at the end of the day called quite seductively. The thing that stopped me cold were the two gear shifts. Whatever numbers that came with the tractor fifty years ago to say which gear was where or which of the little sticks did the real work were long gone. I quit and went inside.

That is, I quit until I found my metaphorical wheelbarrow. Who knew you could page through photographs from Ford 3000 tractor manuals on the internet complete with pictures and directions? The manual had such a warm and friendly tone that I dispensed with caution. Although my diagram transfer skills are generally weak, ten minutes later, I was outside getting the old girl started. I plowed the driveway, I did not blow up, and my husband was mightily surprised. :)

 

Listening to Advent

single_candle

My already slow march toward sainthood has suffered repeated setbacks lately. There is limited pleasure in observations of my shortcomings at any time, but failure set to Christmas music can feel especially glum. I’m not sure it’s even the season that’s getting to me right now as much as the fact that I’m trying so hard and still not spreading peace and joy like dew drops from my wings.

I speak from experience when I say that there is nothing that makes me feel quite so hateful as when I try to be loving and end up being the worst side of me in the middle of it. Examples abound. In case my explanation has failed the clarity test, I’ll share a recurring one.

Loving act:  Extra nice breakfast prepared. Many loving thoughts and warm affections fill me as my feet step lightly through the kitchen. Delicious test: Flying colours. Presentation: Strong. Nutrition: Check. Tra la la la.

Worst side of self races to the fore: I react to the dawdling, complaining, and habitually tardy with acts of war.

Realization hits: I started out to bathe people in love and my irritation and anger is now dripping from their hair.

Result: I hate everyone I know. The Grand They has made me do this. The Grand They continually conspire to make me fail and they are exceedingly good at it. If it weren’t for them I would love everyone with patience and gentleness, possibly even me.

Resulting result: An overwhelming sense of failure salted for flavour with hopelessness

 

So goes the Advent slog on this side of the fence. I’m not feeling as depressed about it as I was. Probably because I got good and mad about something yesterday (again in the midst of planned lovefest for an undeserving segment of mankind). I was more justified than usual, ergo more mad than usual. Then an unlikely bystander was ridiculously kind and generous and I was invited without words to set aside the anger and return to the lovefest.  It didn’t feel logical, but it felt possible.

Advent whispers, if we watch for them, if we let them, at odd intervals, strangers and babies light candles in the dark to save us.

Advent whispers that life might be more like soccer than basketball (one or two goals scored in a game as opposed to seventy or eighty). Missed shots are just directives to shoot again.

Advent says a little louder, despite the occasional evidence to the contrary, we need each other too much to bother with all the hating. Better to load up on matches and start striking. We don’t light our own candles, we light each other’s. Whether in a lifetime we manage one or ten for someone else is largely not up to us. But best to go down trying, with soot marks on our hands and wax dripped down our fingers, aiming for a thousand.

 

A dog, a niece and four pizzas

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On a recent family visit, my niece helped me make dinner. I was pleased to have time away from the maddening crowd to make pizza together. I set my niece to chopping pepperoni. We were cooking for 11, so it was a bit of a task for eight year old hands. Meanwhile, I made the dough, grated the cheese, and got together the other toppings.

“Ok,” I said. “Time to put everything together.”

“I think I better go wash my hands before I help again,” she said. “The dog got very excited and licked all my fingers after I finished cutting the pepperoni.”

“Good idea,” I said.

She left to wash her hands.

“Unless,” I tossed over my shoulder, “we want to make it our secret ingredient. What if everyone thought this was the best pizza ever and then it turns out that our secret ingredient was dog slobber?”

My niece laughed because she knew I was joking. She disappeared to wash her hands for a few minutes, also because she knew I was joking.

Fifteen minutes later, pizzas in the oven, table set, and doing up the dishes, my niece had a question.

“When can we tell them?” she wanted to know.

“Tell them what?” I said.

“About the secret ingredient,” she said.

“There is no secret ingredient. You washed your hands, remember?” I said.

“No, I didn’t,” she said.

“You didn’t?” I said.

“No,” she said happy and oblivious to my horror.  “So when do I get to tell them?”

 

I quizzed her carefully but she wasn’t joking. I made her swear a vow of eternal silence on the matter of dog slobber (mostly, but I didn’t say so, on account of Boy one’s fragile emotional capacities in matters surrounding his food).  Niece was profoundly disappointed but complied. Nothing else profound in the tale here today except the lesson that you make your own bed before you lie in it, and sometimes innocent looking little blond eight year old’s find mild wickedness compelling and delightful.

Circus Days

Circus, by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - 1913. (http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/detail.php?ID=55807)

Circus, by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – 1913. (http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/detail.php?ID=55807)

The children are trying to steal my inner peace. My plans and systems are the grapes. They are the grape pressers, barefoot, stomping, determined to make wine.

The fog Girl one generally lives in has turned to oatmeal. We have not been anywhere at the time I was planning to arrive in weeks.

Girl two (the ever cheerful) has begun raising her voice and banging whatever is closest at the slightest provocation. When she’s in the car and can’t make her feet talk, she pounds the windows or the arm rests.

Happy go lucky Boy two can concentrate enough to read. Experimentation with repetitive high pitched sounds is also in. Speaking, listening, and job completion are out of the question.

Boy one is somehow both bored and behind on all responsibilities. The pressure that comes from an inborn desire for completion does not exist. The need to tap and bounce and never, ever, under any circumstances stop talking fills his waking moments with boundless unfocused energy.

They’re ready for snow and Christmas holidays, but December has just begun. If I knew how to fix it, I would. Were the solution a quaint herbal remedy or a synthetic chemical injection with unknown side effects, I would be the first at the counter for purchase. We’d probably inject and ingest while still in the parking lot. For good measure, we’d let another bit dissolve under our tongues while watching a yoga class.

I am looking into the possibility of hypnotically induced human hibernation – for me (they don’t deserve it). Failing that I am considering some re-homing options – also for me. In the spirit of Christmas, Jolly Old St. Nicholas, and all the rest, my children are also fighting about everything. Patience is, well, we don’t know what it is because we haven’t seen it around for a few days. I think about Christmas, the upcoming birth of a baby. I think of the baby Jesus in the manger and then I think of my kids.

Dear God,

Would you consider a trade?

Giving Advent Room to Get Loose

DSC_0102

 

The winds are blowing in different directions this year. My thoughts on advent themes suggested these: light, dark, light in the darkness, hope, waiting, anticipation, preparation, joy, love.

After this came the notion of writing a list that left this year’s Advent with room to surprise. Some things I hope to do many times, but the only requirement is to do everything once.

 

candles

 

Advent List

Change some of the furniture around

Make some part of the house more inviting

Greet an unwanted change with a smile

Go on a date with my husband

Stop and speak unhurriedly with someone I wouldn’t normally speak with

Count being stuck in a line as a metaphor for waiting, a reminder of the sacred in the mundane

Look for other sacred things hiding in irritation

Do something quiet

Add or subtract something to this list

Be still in the dark

Light candles

Write a letter

Read a story

Sing a song in the dark

Bundle up and go star gazing

An Open Letter to My Mother-in-Law

Self portrait in a straw hat, by Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun, 1782.

Self portrait in a straw hat, by Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun, 1782.

My in-laws had us over for American Thanksgiving. They cooked the turkey, mashed the potatoes, made the dessert and set the table. We ate enthusiastically. Somehow the conversation turned to refrigerators and freezers. My mother-in-law and I do not share views about how to keep them, a point I felt compelled to share (in the spirit of Thanksgiving?). On the drive home a letter began writing itself in my head.

Dear Mother of my husband (who has loved me full and well these seventeen years and then some),

Having shared so generously my thoughts about your freezers, it seems a fuller picture is in order. After lo these many years, perhaps the time has come to clarify.

Over all the years, almost without a moment of exception, I have found you a warm, generous, and open person. To a fault I find you hard working, dedicated and faithful. Do I find you a practical person?  Not particularly, but practicality is overrated for the artistic temperament. I think it hinders mine and I envy your approach to all things art. I love your art. I love that all the arts are you, from poetry to paint to music.

There are moments when we are so different on a small thing that I can’t quite wrap my head around it. (Possibly this happens to you as well when the germ paranoia’s invade my psyche.) There are also moments when I think you understand my own attempts at art better than anyone I know. That in the places mostly without words we share a common core, our insides inhabited by unruly but not unpleasant muses.

You can keep buying freezers, and I’ll keep panicking about controlling contagious disease. Regardless, the years past of being family with you have been nothing but a privilege for me. I look forward to enjoying your company, conversation, insights, ideas, and inspirations for many years to come. Thanks for a wonderful Thanksgiving, take 2.

With love much more than I say,

Michelle