Friday, December 23, 2011

Out of darkest December ...

And, with the Winter Solstice, into the light.

Very gradually into the light.  It will be weeks before I notice a slight lengthening of the daylight, and it will feel like a tease.  Day will be longer, but the ground will still be frozen and, potentially, snow-covered.

There are homey comforts to be enjoyed in winter, of course: sitting with dogs by the fire, being snowed in on a workday, Christmas Eve in church, a hot mug of spicy herbal tea.

But December has sometimes been a hard month at my house.  Sixteen years ago I said farewell to my mom, Ruth Ann,  at her funeral on December 20th, as a snowstorm raged (now wasn't that fun!).  And on the 19th of this December, we said goodbye to my mother-in-law, Grace.  Fortunately this time, there was snow on the ground only, not piling up around us.

So I have reason to dislike December. Clearly, I have difficulty keeping in mind the message of Christmas: it's hard, but it will pass; the Lord is Emanuel; He is here. Fear not.

Fear not, said the angels.

OK, I'm trying.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

A midget mea culpa

It's my fault, as much as anyone's. What do I do now?

I paid bills last night -- 10 of them, including a couple of charitable contributions.  This took me a whole twenty minutes on my computer, even stopping to let the dogs out and in again, and pausing to grab a can of Diet Coke.

Then I went downstairs and turned on the TV. And there it was, right on CNN -- the Post Office is in worse shape than ever. Half of the processing centers (including a BIG one near me) may have to close.  People are going to lose jobs. This sucks. Merry Christmas, you're unemployed.

What now? Go back to writing and mailing checks? Send Christmas cards? (I had to give that up years ago; besides, we have a wonderful parish Christmas card now that we all contribute a message to, and it goes to everyone on the mailing list. Too tempting to refuse). I'm afraid I'm not a good enough person to take a step backwards from e-checks, e-cards, and e-mail.

Which makes me wonder ... what other kinds social problems am I helping to cause, without even meaning to?

Is this what's called "structural sin"? And what do we do about it?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Early Dark

The early darkness of the coming winter usually doesn't bother me, but this year I feel differently, and it's bothered me since the time-change. I suppose J. and I are becoming more than normally aware of our own mortality, as his mom, the last of our parents, seems to have entered her final weeks. Our oldest dog, Shadow, seems to be entering her final stretch as well, though I have no reason to think she's in any pain. We're also watching a loved one cope with addictions, and anticipating a potential job loss next year. These are all difficult events. It's hard to see past them somehow.They loom large, and we find ourselves in their shadow.

Life in general is difficult for many people we know right now, as we wait for things to get better in so many ways. Waiting through sadness is harder than for future joy. Yet I guess Advent is all about waiting; in fact, it's about waiting through difficult times.  Who had harder lives than people in sub-Roman Palestine?  Certainly not me, though the temptation to whine is strong.

And so we wait, lighting the Advent candle every night, and trying to avoid the commercial monstrosity that Christmas has become now.  "We wait in hope,"  as we sing in our Advent introit at Church.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus. 

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Making progress, one centipede at a time

Anyone who knows me well is aware that I am absolutely phobic about spiders. Spiders, in fact, have no reason for existence in my personal universe.  I don't give a damn what other bugs they eat, or whatever other good things they do for the ecosystem. Pffft! Spiders go with cans of Raid like mustard goes with hotdogs. A few years ago, however, after a guilty struggle, I did become able to tolerate a spider's presence on my porch -- providing it stayed at the uninhabited end of it, down by the wind chime, spinning its nasty webs down from the porch roof to the top of the woodpile, and with the assumption that the spider would conveniently freeze to death (or whatever happens to spiders in the fall) long before I would ever need the wood.

I guess you could say I kind of feel negative about insects in general.

Now, in my defense, I have to say that I am downright fond of certain creatures that don't make most peoples' top-ten list: snakes, rodents of all kinds, and lizards of any variety. In fact, I managed to heartily embarass my children at Parents' Night at camp, when I was the only mother (my daughter kept repeating) who wanted to hold the snake at the nature center (I can still see the looks of mortification on the kids' little faces).

Until recently, having read quite a few books on Buddhism, I thought I was really making significant progress with the interconnected-of-all-beings idea.  In fact, I was sitting on my bed one night curled up with the three dogs, reading a new book by Thich Nhat Hanh, and thinking cozy thoughts about the welfare of all beings. Out of the corner of my eye, however, I detected a suspicious gliding motion.

It was a three-inch-long centipede on the ceiling.  It stopped right above my innocent head.

I removed my innocent head from target range, and retreated to the end of the room.  The dogs, unaware of my mortal danger, looked up in bewilderment.

Now I had a real problem.  My husband was traveling -- normally I would I point out the insect visitor, and then retreat to a safe distance while he proceeded with the kleenex. My son was up in his room (with his girlfriend); no hope there. The dogs were oblivious. I was on my own.

I told myself stories about the centipede.  It wouldn't drop down on a web. It was just as afraid of me as I was of it (even I don't believe this).  I looked at the smiling picture of Thich Nhat Hanh on the bookcover. He would tell me the centipede was my brother. The centipede and I were one with all creation. All creation is good. Therefore ...

It started to move.  It glided (eeewww!!!) across the ceiling towards the bathroom door. I waited, transfixed.  It crawled onto the bathroom ceiling.

Boldly, I sprang forward and slammed the bathroom door with a mighty crash. Trapped! Certainly it would not come back. Right?

I used the other bathroom while my husband was away. The dogs slept with me.  I managed not to kill my brother centipede.  Moral progress is made like ths, in tiny steps, I think.

And on hundreds of little legs.



Monday, October 31, 2011

When Halloween was in the dark ...

When I was a kid, Halloween was my favorite holiday.  Probably some children feel that way still.  And there was a whole "Halloween season," which started right after school reopened in the fall.  By the end of September, the classroom was decorated with pumpkin drawings and construction-paper cutouts of ghosts and witches (I don't remember cornstalks.  I imagine they were not yet in vogue).  But the best thing about Halloween, in the early 1960s, was the freedom of Halloween night.

Hard as it is to believe, Halloween trick-or-treating back in the day was done in the dark, absent hovering parents.  Parents stayed at home and watched TV, after helping us children get into our costumes, handing us flashlights, and warning us appropriately about getting run over (this is the only warning I recall ever receiving).  Costumes could be more-or-less the same for several years. "Blue fairy again?" Mom would inquire, and I consented to be the blue fairy until I outgrew the costume.

I always trick-or-treated with Cathy and Chuck, my sibling friends from around the block.  We basically ran wild for two or three hours after dinner, through neighborhood after neighborhood, finding our way back home shortly before bedtime.  No one kept track of us (there were -- gasp! -- no cell phones). Mom and Dad would look up when I arrived, admire the size of my candy-stuffed pillowcase, and advise me not to eat it all at once.  No one checked for razorblades, poison, or any other items of ill-intent.

By the time I raised my own kids, trick-or-treating had migrated from the evening to the afternoon.  My kids enjoyed it, but for me, it had lost a lot of its glamor.  What's scary in the afternoon, in broad daylight? Not much.  I took a half-day off so I could trail around behind my son and daughter, sometimes in the company of adult friends of mine. Trick-or-treating was now a group activity for parents, too. It was ... shall we say ... ho hum.

On Halloween night, by the time I get home from work, Halloween activities are long over.  Everyone turns out their porch lights, to discourage teenagers who have ignored the curfew.

A Halloween curfew.  I realize the point is the safety of kids, but my happy memories are at odds with this dangerous world.   

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sign of the Times?

 Another chunk of my childhood seems  about to drop off and float away on the river of time.  I should be used to this by now, but it gets me every time!

The link above is for the church where I grew up, the Cathedral Church of Saint John, in Wilmington, Delaware. I learned recently that the Cathedral will be closing in July 2012, for lack of funds.  I knew there were financial problems, but I had no idea it had come to this.  I have never before heard of a diocese without a Cathedral, though perhaps I am naive to be so horrified by this thought.

Below is an excerpt from the History portion of the Cathedral's website:

The Cathedral Church of Saint John is the Cathedral for the Episcopal Diocese of Delaware and the seat of the Bishop of Delaware. June 13, 1857, the cornerstone was laid, and the church was consecrated on November 3, 1858. Alexis Irenee du Pont is credited with founding the church and donating the funds for its construction. John Notman of Philadelphia who designed the Athenaeum on Independence Square as well as Saint Mark’s Church in Philadelphia, designed the church.
Because of the use of pointed arches, the design is considered Gothic; however, it might be more accurately described as typical English Village Church style. The church is constructed of Brandywine granite about three feet thick. Mr. Notman adhered to the old custom of sitting the church to meet the North, South, East and West compass bearings. The church itself was 116 feet long with the altar at the East end, and the center aisle runs East and West. The open roof has all its massive oak rafters, purlines, jack and hammer beams open to view. The total cost of construction including the land was $26,173.49.

So the Bishop will have no seat, and I will have no chance to return, as I have occasionally, to the place where my parents were married, and from which they were buried,  where I was baptized, confirmed, and married (both times!), and where my Dad was confirmed just four months before he died.  The nave seemed endless to my child's eyes, and  bears a striking resemblance to  that of the church where I worship today.  I also remember a quaint childrens' chapel up on the top floor,  and a large wooden model of the Cathedral itself, with little doors that could be opened and shut.  Like a church dollhouse!

If I come across additional pictures at home, I will post them.  Meanwhile, I am trying to plan one more visit, before the Cathedral doors close forever.

It's wrong. It's just wrong!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Courage and Faith

A Facebook friend of mine, Jeff,  died recently.  He was only 54, younger than I am, and had suffered from muscular dystrophy. Close to the end, he had only 10%  of his lung function, and was on a ventilator.

I was saddened by his passing, but I'm amazed by his courage.

A week ago Saturday,  Jeff had a party.  Twenty or so of his closest friends were there, as were his parish priest, his two adult children, and his physician and hospice nurse.  After feasting on his favorite foods, including large quantities of chocolate, Jeff gathered his friends together to watch as he received Last Rites.

At that point, the doctor administered to Jeff a dose of ativan, and, at Jeff's direction, removed his ventilator. With his children at his side and his friends offering comfort, Jeff died peacefully.

This is a beautiful story, and I know we would all like to die peacefully at home, with our families and friends at our side.  The question is, would I have the courage to make the decision Jeff made? Would I step forward in faith, have the ventilator removed, and trust God to bring me home?

The very thought of this makes me hyperventilate. I'm really fond of breathing, to the point that I can't watch movies about deep-sea diving (I had to leave during The Abyss). I am, in fact, not a fan of pain, or even of discomfort.  My idea of hardship makes me embarrassed, and would make you laugh. 

Of course, not having been in Jeff's position, I can't begin to imagine what life must have been like on the ventilator. I have no doubt he made the right choice, and that he was welcomed into the open arms of God.  I have no doubt that we are all  welcomed into God's arms, no matter how fearful we have been of death. That's my trust and hope.

But that ol' yellow streak up my back is about a foot wide.

Rest in peace, dear Jeff, brother in Christ. And pray hard for faith and courage for the rest of us.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Cruel, cruel summer

A hearty welcome to autumn!

I am generally glad to see summer end, because I don't like the heat -- even having lost quite a bit of weight over the last few years, I am still not comfortable in summer.  And this summer has been like the "cruel, cruel summer" of the old Bananarama song: we had family drama, work drama, unrelenting heat, bad storms, trees down ...

Enough drama. It could always have been worse, but even so, I'm glad the season is over.  In the middle of a violent rainstorm, as I was slogging along soaked to the knees, a fragment of Psalm 73 popped into my mind:

          14 For all day long I have been plagued,
              and am punished every morning.

 So it's time to move to a new season.  As an academic librarian, I have long been attuned  to the beginning of the fall semester: it's a time of higher energy, more optimism, a new beginning.  Let's move forward.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Walk across my swimming pool!

I got home rather late last night, after a long, fruitful meeting with a directee, a meeting accompanied by some excellent General Tso's chicken (the Holy Spirit moves quite often, now as in the Gospels, through a shared meal; or it could be that I simply like to eat, especially Chinese food).

To my sheer delight, when I flipped through the channels, there was the 1973 film version of Jesus Christ Superstar, which most people reading this are too young to remember. This film, along with Godspell , actually helped to bring me back to church after a long absence.  I was tired last night and wanted to sleep, but I had  to stay up to hear "Herod's Song," featuring the wonderful Josh Mostel as Herod Antipas. Even in the negative context of the Gospel story, the song is very amusing, especially the immortal lines Herod directs at Jesus:

                          "Prove to me that you're no fool --
                          Walk across my swimming pool!"

a line I have been humming all day, to the mystification of my (younger) co-workers. Here's Josh Mostel on Youtube. I especially like the honky-tonk piano accompaniment.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

For Sale

 My Family Home
I was in my hometown last Tuesday for a business meeting. And I couldn't help it -- I had to check up on my family's former home, the house where I grew up -- which had seemed abandoned the last time I saw it.

To my great relief, it's been cleaned up and is on the market! This is the photo from the MLS listing. The house sits in the shade of an enormous maple tree, almost the only large tree left on the property.  When I was small, however, this scant quarter-acre was my Eden. Back in the day, when my grandparents lived with us, their green thumb and love for trees were in evidence.  On the front lawn you'd have found, in addition to the maple, a blue spruce, a magnolia tree, azaleas, and boxwoods.  In the back yard were a tall birch, a peachtree, a Japanese maple, lilac and hydrangea bushes, a vegetable garden, a rose bed, and yet another maple tree. There was also a slender mimosa tree, planted by my father on the day I was born. I can still feel the shade of those trees on my face, and recall the scent of the lilacs, which bloomed prolifically. 

After my grandmother died, most of the trees and shrubs slowly died off, too. We always cut the lilacs to take to the cemetery, but they eventually faded away. The birch died of a blight; the roses died of neglect.  My mother was not a gardener, nor was my dad, and they slowly had the ailing plantings removed.  My dad claimed it was easier to cut the grass without having to cut around bushes and trees.  But to me it seemed a comparative wasteland.

Never mind.  Yet another family will now have the chance to make this little house their own. Time passes, and perhaps  another little girl will grow up there.

The house is a steal at $199,000.  But if you buy it, please plant some trees! 

Friday, September 16, 2011

O Canada!

I'd like to personally thank our friends north of the border for the beautiful cold front taking over our weather today. The air is crisp and clean, autumnal, the very first hint we have had of approaching fall. My window was open all night. What a blessing the turn of the year is -- the revolving of the seasons speaks directly to my spirit.

"This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!"

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The River of Time

On a recent Saturday evening, about twilight, I was cleaning up in the kitchen and found myself staring out the kitchen window. The sky was overcast, and the rampant vegetation in the yard lent a peaceful, greenish cast to the light. Birds flocked to the newly-filled feeders. There were the pileated woodpecker, the catbird, the usual flock of sparrows (those good little laborers in the vineyard!), and the goldfinches that I have come to think of as "mine," since I finally figured out how to attract them.

Funny, isn't it, how we come to think of things as "ours." I recall my mother and grandmother, in the house where I grew up, standing in the kitchen, aprons on and sudsy water to their elbows, and looking out the kitchen window into the yard that was "theirs." It was a different scene, of course, in addition to being a different window: my grandmother was a great gardener, so in those days they looked out on hydrangea, lilacs, beds of roses, a vegetable garden, a peach tree. That backyard seemed like heaven to the little girl I was then. My own backyard, by contrast, is wild and weedy, and we refer to it kindly as the "woodland garden," as we watch it wildly growing out of control.

As the years passed, of course, the women looking out the kitchen window changed, grew older. Where my grandmother and mother had stood was, in time, just my mother. Now it's just me, looking out a different window onto a different scene. In a few years, my daughter, perhaps, will stand here looking out.

The river of time flows. One Sunday this summer, my husband and I went to a couple's twenty-fifth-anniversary renewal of their marriage vows. It was a touching service, a reminder of how some things grow in richness over time, are not defeated or diminished by it. The group in attendance was small, the mood buoyant. We wished the couple well for their second twenty-five years. At that point, they will be eighty and eighty-one.

On the way home, we did something I nearly always do when I have occasion to be in my hometown: I drive past "my house," that house where I grew up, where I lived till I was twenty. It was difficult to part with it, fourteen years ago. My parents had been the original owners. They had it built in 1949, and in great excitement my dad, who was a commercial photographer at that time, documented the construction in an album: every stage, from the removal of an enormous rock in the center of what would be the basement, to the pouring of the concrete walk. They loved their house; moving into a bigger one as their fortunes rose never seemed to occur to them.

The house has sold twice in the interval since dad died, and I had been generally pleased with the fate of "my house." The owners seemed to be taking good care of it. One of them pulled out the azalea bushes under the front windows, the pink ones I always thought of as clashing with the red brick. I cruised by, and approved. Later a security system sign went up out front, and a new coat of paint appeared on the front door. Again I cruised past, and approved.
After my friends' ceremony, however, instead of cruising past I stopped the car dead, and J. and I looked at "my house" with dismay. It looked abandoned. The windows stared blankly at us. A weed as tall as I am had sprung up in front of the windows, where the clashing azaleas had resided. The huge maple tree on the front lawn appeared to be dying, and the magnolia tree that had been my grandmother's joy had grown into a tangled, unpruned mess. The bushes at the end of the drive had nearly grown together in the middle. It was an appalling mess. It looked very sad. There was no "For Sale" sign.

That evening, I searched for a real estate listing, but found none. It wasn't for sale! It really was abandoned. This morning, it's all I can do not to pick up the phone and call a realtor back home and ask for information, if there is any.

But I guess it's better not to do that. Did I mention I sometimes have trouble letting go? What would I do with "my house" anyway, now that the folks I loved have gone, borne off down the river? It's just a house now, after all.

Besides, I can always cruise by in the fall and check on it.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Woman mistaken for hamburger ...

Life can be so silly sometimes.

In my latest episode of silliness, I was quietly making hamburger patties in my kitchen, accompanied by my oldest dog, Shadow, who is nearly blind and almost completely deaf. When the burgers were finished, I stowed them in the freezer, picked up the container of bread crumbs, and reached down to stroke my faithful, furry friend, prior to washing up.

She can still smell just fine, it seems.

Smelling meat, she clamped down on my fingers good and hard. This is a girl who loves her food. She wasn't missing out on this!

I yelled in pain. Shadow jumped, knocking the bread crumbs out of my other hand. We had an eruption of bread crumbs several feet into the air. I said a few things that would, as Anne Lamott puts it, "make Jesus want to drink gin from the cat dish."

Fortunately, the skin was not broken. But I wondered if the last joint in my finger might be broken, when it swelled up and got very red. What do you do for that? Go to the ER? I could just hear the conversation:

Me: Hi, my dog bit me. She might have broken my finger.
ER doc: What type of dog was that?
Me: A poodle. A big poodle.
ER doc (thinking, What did you do to piss her off? Call her Fifi?): Your poodle bit you?
Me: Thought I was a hamburger.
ER doc: You thought you were a hamburger?
Me: The dog thought I was a hamburger.
ER doc: Ma'am, do you have any medications you take regularly? ...

You see the problem. Who's on first? This finger is just going to have to heal without medical intervention. What kind of person has a finger broken by a poodle?

I'm not going there.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Greetings from the blogging deadbeat!

Oh, OK, you're right ... It's been awhile.

I, like many people, got through Christmas and collapsed. Why do I do this to myself every year? I don't even have little kids to use as an excuse. Next year, all I want is a candle in the window and a wreath on the door. Hear that, J.? Adjust!

On the other hand, I wouldn't mind having an itty bitty tree (say three feet tall), with all my glass ornaments (icicles, raindrops, snowflakes, etc. on it). And white lights, of course. See, I'm already caving in!

At the moment, however, I am stewing over the fireplace. There was an article in our newspaper recently about how terribly polluting wood-smoke is, so I have been feeling guilty every time I light a fire. Particulates! Yuck. So I have a decision to make, now that the firewood is nearly gone and spring will be here soon (I hope). Do I purchase a cleaner-burning fireplace insert that still burns wood? A pellet stove? (somehow that makes me sound like a guinea pig) Or some other contraption? I could use some advice on this.

Or ... do I give up my fireplace entirely? Surely not!