Wednesday, December 30, 2009

If You're Happy and You Know It . . .

Monday was my 48th birthday. One of my first encounters of the day was with my beloved Offspring No. 2. She met me in the hall and said, "Now you're old. Happy Birthday." I said that I would just add "old" to the list of other descriptors I can use for myself - fat, dumb, happy . . .and now old. Offspring No. 2 said that she would agree with two of those and I could choose which two. Without a doubt, I know that I am happy. Knowing that happy is one of them makes the second one inconsequential. True happiness makes everything else bearable.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Seeing Red

On Christmas Eve day, before the blizzard that gave North Texas its first white Christmas in eighty three years hit, Erin and I were walking through the china department of Dillards department store. Though the store employees were obviously preparing for the after Christmas sales and the decimation of the 2009 Christmas season, the tables in this section of the store were still adorned with red holiday tablecloths, silk flower arrangements embellished with spray painted gold pinecones, and fancy Christmas-patterned china. Erin asked why people spend all that money on dinnerware that can only be used once a year. After internally patting myself on the back for having raised a practical minded child (at least in this instance) I told her that I supposed that it was people who did a great deal of entertaining and who had disposable income that indulged in such things. Needless to say, we don’t have Christmas china. However, we do have festive dishes that can be used on Christmas. I know what you are thinking. No, they are not paper plates with cheerful snowmen. They are real plates; the kind that can be put in the dishwasher without disintegrating. Our “Christmas” plates are white with a simple band of red around the outer edge.

In December, these plates definitely pass as Christmassy, especially if they are accompanied by paper napkins with those cheerful snowmen mentioned earlier. But, red is much more versatile than just as a Christmas color. When used on a table set for two with a vase of red roses in the center and napkins that now sport hearts rather than snowmen, these dishes can be transformed to Valentine’s Day tableware. Remove the hearts and flowers and add a few stars and a little blue to your table and they are perfect for a patriotic 4th of July celebration, or possibly even Flag Day. They can also be used for a family meal on the Day of Pentecost, a day whose liturgical color is red. Others may find the red plates appropriate for use on their wedding anniversary. With a little creativity, the possible uses for red dinnerware are numerous. Does any other color offer such potential?

Orange – Halloween, Thanksgiving, National Orange Juice Day, The Autumnal Equinox,

Yellow – The summer solstice, a gathering of the International Saffron Society, Big Bird’s birthday party

Green – St. Patrick’s Day, Pay Day, Pickle Pride Day, Arbor Day

Purple – The forty days of Lent, Tinky Winky’s birthday

Blue – As far as I am concerned, blue can and should be used every day. For those of you who have no test and prefer another color for your everyday tableware, blue can be used for Hanukah, the winter solstice, Smurf Day

What you eat tells a lot about you. What color dishes you eat from may also reveal more than you think about what is important to you. Are you willing to break out the fine green china to celebrate Green Thumb Day? Or the yellow on School Bus Driver’s Day? Or blue to honor those events that happen only once in a blue moon? If you are looking for an occasion to use your blue dishes, we will experience an actual blue moon on Thursday of this week, the first since June of 2007. (A blue moon is a second full moon to occur in a calendar month.

Perhaps What Color Is Your Plate will be a bestselling sequel to the ever popular book What Color Is Your Parachute?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Family, Traditions, and Christmas

Christmas is all about family and traditions. Though the details of both may change, their importance in our lives does not; we want and need them both.

For us, family has always had a broad definition. Simply stated, to me, family is defined as those people that I love and that love me. As we all know, those lists are subject to change, sometimes without notice. Today we had a wonderful gathering of family – me, Weber, Erin, Edgar (Erin’s boyfriend), Mike, Jason (Mike’s boyfriend), Brooke, and, via the wonders of AT&T and text messaging, Josh (Brooke’s boyfriend), Adidas and Harley. The makeup of our family has changed over the past year. We have welcomed Weber and Jason.

Since we did not go to church last night because of the weather, we all woke up this morning well rested after having had a good night’s sleep. We began our Christmas morning in our traditional way – opening stockings. We all had a part in filling each other’s stockings with goodies that ranged from the serious to the absurd. Before moving on to the gifts under the tree, we took a break for coffee – against Erin’s wishes. Though she had her seventeenth birthday this week, her inner three year old is nurtured by the excitement of Christmas morning. She was ready to move straight from the stockings to the big gifts, no coffee needed. She was overruled!

As has also become tradition at our house, Erin distributes the gifts from beneath the tree. I’m not sure if this is because she is the most agile and can crawl under the tree to retrieve them or if it is because invariably she seems to have the greatest number of presents and therefore it seems only fair that she should do the doling. And in keeping with another family tradition, books and electronics were the most popular items under the tree this year.

One of our favorite family traditions is the collaborative meals on Christmas day. I must say upfront that I use the term meal here with the same level of broadness with which I defined family earlier. There is always an abundance of food on the table, but it does not always constitute “a meal” as prescribed by the current food pyramid. Suffice it to say that no one went hungry!

Brooke started off the day by making the most amazing VEGAN cinnamon rolls! They were awesome, a treat for all the senses.

I must include here her caveat. “I said they were vegan, not healthy!”

Erin will be the first to tell you that she does not cook. Luckily, those of us around her, including Edgar, can and do cook. So, Erin’s role was to figure out what the rest of us were to cook. Weber smoked a brisket and a turkey (not an easy task in our sub freezing temperatures but he was successful). Mike made several loaves of various kinds of bread. I was responsible for bacon at breakfast and mashed potatoes later in the day. Edgar’s job was to tease Erin about the fact that she doesn’t cook – although she did make scrambled eggs (her signature dish) this afternoon when her eating schedule and our cooking schedule were at odds with one another.

The afternoon was spent playing games. We have become fans of Apples to Apples. This was followed by a game of Scrabble in which Jason, who is from South Africa, lamented the fact that our version of Scrabble only has four U’s. This is a problem with honour, and colour, and favourite, and the Q’s.

Weber is not a fan of our game playing tradition so he and Harley continued a tradition that they started last year.

Christmas 2008

Christmas 2009

We had wonderful family holiday filled with all those things that should accompany such a celebration – fun, laughter, good food, and, most importantly, a lot of love.

I hope that you and your family had a blessed and joyful holiday as well.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Wishes

Merry Christmas to all . . .

. . .and to all a goodnight.

White Christmas

Clothes, books, games, music, a lot of love and world peace occupy our Christmas wishes, but I think I can safely say that none of us was wishing for or dreaming of a white Christmas. Though I am proud to say that all of our holiday preparations were done before today, we did have plans for this day before Christmas and they did not include snow. . I had two services to sing for tonight. Erin had dinner plans with her boyfriend and Brooke had hoped that we would all be otherwise engaged so that she would have the house to herself for a few hours.

Somebody's dreams came true . . . North Texas is blanketed in snow. The wind is blowing fiercely and the temperature is in the low twenties with a wind chill of half that. By Texas standards, we are experiencing a blizzard. The weather caused us to completely change our Christmas Eve plans. Everyone is at home.

It feels strange not being at church tonight. I have not missed a Christmas Eve service in twenty six years. Then again, there has not been a white Christmas in the twenty six years that I have lived in Texas. So instead of hearing the story of Christ's birth and singing all the hymns that are only sung at this time of year, I am warm and safe at home eating tamales and surfing the web.

Though it feels odd right now, I suspect that tomorrow after having had a good night's sleep because I did not sing for midnight Mass, I will be thankful for the surprise snow that kept us all home tonight.

Despite the frigid temperature, I did take a quick trip outside for some pictures. The hard falling snow and blowing wind made the images a bit blurry.

It snowed for several hours after these pictures were taken. We probably have two or three inches of accumulation and even a few drifts because of the wind. It was too cold to play outside in the snow but I did get a picture of my favorite snowman.

And so we have the Texas version of a white Christmas and a winter wonderland. . . .

Sunday, December 20, 2009

December Morning

Though we are officially on vacation, our mornings of setting no alarm clock have not started quite yet. We left the house bright and early this morning for church and then a trip to Palestine (TX) to see a family friend.

Despite the brightly shining sun, the air was definitely on the chilly side. I don't know what the official temperature was outside at 7:15 this morning, but it was low enough that the car windshield was covered with a significant layer of ice, one that required several minutes with the defroster on maximum before it melted.

As we were waiting for the heat to do its magic, I turned my head and saw this magnificent image created by this morning's bright sun and the icy layer on the car window. The picture was taken with my iPhone.

This bizarre glimpse of beauty makes me glad that I was up early this morning.

It almost looks like an image that was sent back by the Hubble telescope. Maybe I should send it to NASA.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Brooke got home for the Christmas break last Saturday. She is just now starting to emerge from that end of the semester haze that results from the adrenaline let down of finishing exams and the sobering up from the parties after the adrenaline let down of final exams. Today she was in the kitchen planning her baking attack for the next few weeks and putting the finishing touches on her Christmas gift buying. I was cleaning the kitchen.

As I cleared miscellaneous pieces of mail from the bar, I unearthed a catalog that had come since she was home at Thanksgiving. It was a Fredrick’s of Hollywood catalog. I handed it to her and said that she might want to pick out her Christmas jammies for this year. She passed on the suggestive Santa’s elf outfits (emphasis on OUT) but said that we should order some “cute” underwear. My initial reaction was that “cute”, Frederick’s of Hollywood and me cannot possibly be used in the same sentence. Brooke assured me that ordering underwear would make my day better.

We started thumbing through the pages. It was one of those mother-daughter bonding experiences. We began with a discussion of Do people really wear that? Wouldn’t those straps around your butt just make you look lumpy? That just looks dreadfully uncomfortable. Then there was the Why bother?

The conversation turned to one of those conversations that I never would have had with my mother. So if they are going to cut that part out of the garment, why would you bother to wear anything? Why not just go naked? In a matter of fact way, Brooke informed me that guys would rather girls be naked anyway. I refrained from asking the obvious question . . .How do you know?

As we turned a few more pages, Brooke came across something that she thought I should get – some pretty but unpretentious bras. As it turned out, if you bought two they were relatively inexpensive. In fact, they were quite a bit cheaper than the boring ones I normally buy at the department stores. We decided to each get one. As we began to place our order, Brooke said that she wondered if she was wearing the right size bra. We decided to measure. To insure that we took the proper measurements, we turned to Wikipedia for the most accurate information on bra sizing. Armed with this information and a tape measure, we set about gathering the data. We were the only ones and home and fairly confident that this would remain the case for a while so we shed our shirts and measured. Brooke’s response – “I don’t really wear THAT size! And mine – “Cool! Frederick’s of Hollywood makes stuff in my size!

We both made our selection; we both chose the same bra. Brooke entered our selections in the online order form. For some reason the discount for buying two was not being figured. Brooke thought about calling their customer service number and inquiring as to what the problem might be. We got a little giddy as we played out the possible conversations . . .My mommy and I are trying to buy matching bras for our birthdays and we want the sale price! It was quite funny at the time. I suspect it is one of those “got to be there” things. Brooke decided that if we were ever successful in ordering our matching bras that perhaps we could take a picture and submit it to Awkward Family Photos. It would most surely be a candidate for that!

I am sure glad to have my oldest baby home. Today was like all those days we had when she was little – learning letters and numbers and those unexpected life lessons. It is so rewarding to watch your children grow up!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Time of Waiting

For those of us that live our lives at least somewhat by the liturgical calendar, we are in the second week of the New Year, the second week of Advent. In the Christian tradition, Advent is the time that immediately precedes the celebration of the birth of Christ—Christmas. Thus, it is a season of waiting – waiting for the baby to be born. It should be a time for us to slow down and contemplate all that there is to learn from enduring a period of great anticipation. But, waiting is not something we do well in this day and age. Immediate gratification seems to be considered by many as an inalienable right.

I heard on the radio today that people under twenty one, i.e. those who have grown up in an era in which the Internet has been a part of their everyday life since birth, consider more than ten seconds as too long to wait for a web page to load whereas those of us who are a little older (or a lot older) are perfectly happy waiting as much as two or three minutes. Some people say that our youth are simply impatient and others say that this impatience is a result of children these days being overindulged. They are given cell phones from the time they can string two syllables together. They are banging away on computer keyboards as soon as they can sit up. Their strollers are equipped with iPod speakers. Everything from food to cosmetics, from designer clothing to kid-sized motorized Hummers is available to them. It would appear that they don’t have to wait until adulthood for anything. As children, they can have it all. This may all be true, but with any scenario, there is another side of the story.

Children do have many of the gadgets and material things that in past generations were deemed only for “grown-ups”; but sadly, they also are now facing many of the stresses of life that at one time also were reserved only for adults.

Illness and death were not something that I had much experience with as a child. Sure, I knew of kids who lost their grandparents. That was not a surprise to me as a child because they were “old” and old people die. The most serious encounter that I had with illness was when a classmate had their tonsils out. And as far as I knew, a tonsillectomy was not life threatening. Children didn’t face life-threatening illnesses and only old people died. Looking back, I know that life was not this rosy, but as a child, even a teenager, I never had to face the emotional stresses of such things. This too has changed for children today.

Erin will be seventeen years old in two weeks. Based on the current statistical life expectancy, she is still very young. In those seventeen years, she has experienced firsthand more heartache and pain as the result of illness and death than I had by the time I was forty. When she was seven, Erin and an entire classroom of second and third graders attended the funeral of a beloved teacher. She had cancer and was not old. She was the mother of a little girl who also attended the same school. When I was little, teachers and mothers did not die.

As she was finishing middle school, Erin’s math teacher and the mother of a child a year older than Erin was diagnosed with colon cancer. She is no longer teaching because battling cancer is taking all of her energy. When I was little, teachers and mothers did not get cancer.

Back in the spring, another of her teachers collapsed and died of a heart attack while out jogging on a Saturday morning. Again the funeral service with packed with children, two of whom were his own. He was my age. When I was little, teachers and fathers did not die from heart attacks.

Two weeks ago a friend of Erin’s, a girl with whom she attended school, played volleyball, performed in plays, and had many slumber parties from kindergarten through eighth grade was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer that affects primarily adolescents. A part of Erin’s daily routine now is to check the website that her friend’s family has created to keep friends and family updated on her progress. When I was little, my friends did not get cancer.

It may be true that our children have more things than they need. They most certainly also have more stresses than they need or deserve. When I step back and look at the bigger picture of childhood today, it becomes clear to me why young people need immediate gratification. They are keenly aware that tomorrow is not a guarantee.

What are they waiting for?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Joy In Our World

Over the years that I have kept a journal I have noticed a trend in my writing; when things are bad, I tend not to write. Like many things in my life, that has changed in the last year. My silence here is not because things are bad or I am unhappy but because life is wonderful and I have spent my time doing other things. I have missed writing, but I do not regret taking the time away from it to truly live.

Teaching has been great this year. My students are motivated and are working hard. That encourages me to work equally as hard for them. Erin is in the final stages of completing her college applications. It seems like just yesterday that I was editing Brooke’s admissions essay. Now it is Erin. And, Weber and I have both been fortunate to have the opportunity to reconnect with friends from the past so our social calendar has been full. And, as you might imagine, holiday preparations are occupying our time as well.

Surprisingly, I have completed most of my gift-buying – without stepping foot in a retail establishment over the Thanksgiving weekend! For the first time in a long time I am delighted with my progress so early in December and I am also pleased with the gifts that I have bought. Because I am ahead of the game, we are even ready to put up the Christmas tree – perhaps tomorrow night . . .or not . . .

“What’s this? Flowers? How thoughtful!”
”It’s the new Christmas tree and it comes with instructions, which I have made the mistake of reading.”

How hard can this be? Do we really need instructions to put together an artificial tree? It’s not like they need to tell us how often to water it or to cut an inch or two off of the trunk like is required with a living tree. As Weber read the instructions aloud, it became obvious that they were not to aid in the successful erecting of a Christmas tree, but purely to entertain.

For example:

I wonder what its intended use really is?

Maybe if we shed a little light on it.

Mike and Weber decided that its purpose must be a prop with which to practice toilet papering people’s yards. We had snow yesterday so it is nice for them to hone their skills inside where it is nice and warm – especially since this seasonal product is not intended to be used outdoors.


You guys are going to get in trouble!

Too bad for Adidas. He would like a permanent indoor tree so that he did not have to venture outside on these cold days.

We don’t have to worry about this instruction for a while. For now, we can simply enjoy our seasonal, electric, indoor, non-permanent, non-toy.

Though we did have our share of fun and laughs while putting up the Christmas tree, we are keenly aware of the meaning of Christmas.

Fleece on earth, good wool to all.

Oh sorry! The tree is decorated in all things wool – sheep ornaments, miniature knitted socks, sweaters and hats, and various critters adorned with scarves, mittens and hats.