Friday, December 31, 2010

Hope for a Wonderful New year

I love to see an old year end - even if it has heavily tipped the scale on the good side - because the new year brings with it hope for better things to come. Hope sustains us, and we cannot live without it. In my field, I have seen the sad outcomes of what happens to people when they lose all hope.

It is one of the big three, up there close to love, in that beautiful Biblical passage. "But now faith, hope, and love abide (remain, continue), these three; but the greatest of these is love."
I Corinthians 13:3.

Hope for the day. Hope for the future. Hope for a great 2011!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Last Night's Cold Adventure

Last night about nine thirty as I was letting the cats in for the last time, the house, in a split second, went totally dark. I could see nothing. Nothing at all! My cozy, familiar home instantly became a black and scary place. What was happening?

Feeling my way, I made it to the living room and looked out the front window at the neighbor’s house. Their usual display of Christmas lights was off; it looked as if nobody was home. In fact none of the nine houses in our cul-de-sac had any light. Aha…It was an electrical outage of some sort.

Thankfully I knew where the new flashlight was, so I groped along the walls and furniture until I found it. Then I located the Christmas candles that had been used for decoration, and I lit all six of them with the long matches. What a lovely warm light those candles made - actually enough to allow me to read. It is hard to place a value on the light of one little candle until you are in a pitch black place.

The house was not just dark but silent, too. The familiar hum of the refrigerator had stopped, and worse, there was no sound of warm air blowing in through the vents. It was getting colder by the minute. Yikes. What would we do!

But it wasn’t all bad. It gave me time to think and wonder how the many generations before us survived without electricity, and it allowed me to see a sky filled with stars that aren’t visible when manmade lights cover the surface of the Earth.

When the outage happened, we called Duke Power to report it. The message said it would be back on by one a.m. That seemed like a long time to wait, but we had no choice but to be patient. We eventually gave up and got in bed under many covers, but the strange, coldness made it hard to sleep. At one a.m. no electricity. At four a.m. no electricity. Finally at eight thirty this morning, a light popped on, as quickly as it had gone off. And I heard a wonderful small roar from the furnace.

I felt like a pioneer woman for a few hours.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Working on Resolutions

This afternoon I have been engaged in two of my New Year's resolutions - several days ahead of the game. My perpetual top of the list is to be more organized. (How I wish.) While I have been organizing - more like plundering through piles and rearranging the messes - I have been listening to music, another resolution. Sometime during the past couple of years, my love for music has slid into a has been place in my heart. Maybe it was crowded out by talk radio, rejected by gross contemporary lyrics, or not singing in a choir, but it slowly became a small part of my life. Music is wonderful and so filled with passion, and I need it. So listening to music more, a lot more, is on my list for 2011. Pandora, a great web site, is filling the air with The Electric Light Orchestra station this afternoon. It has played a lot of Beatles tunes (what depressing lyrics), and other songs from the sizzling seventies. Right now I am listening to Fat Bottomed Girls by Queen, which reminds me of another resolution I need to make. Now where is that list?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A New List Every Year

As we head into the home stretch that will complete the year 2010, we are getting lists of various things that were newsworthy or of interest during the year. None are more interesting to me than the lists of those accomplished people who have died during the year, those who for better or worse made their mark on our planet. Sometimes the focus is on individuals who have entertained the rest of us, but others who have died were famous for a single accomplishment, or wrote phrases that are in common usage today, or were politicians who changed the direction of a nation, scientists with brilliant ideas, and so on. What is really fascinating is what people can do with their lives and, like millions of radii on a circle, all the different directions a life can take.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

As the Prophet Isaiah Foretold

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."

Isaiah 9:6

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Brotherly Love

We are leaping toward Christmas Day, and my head gets filled with many things. Some are memories and this one from close to thirty years ago is a sweet one.

Ned was maybe eight and Peter twelve. Money was in short supply and the amount allocated for Santa to spread among the four boys meant there would not be a lot under the tree, and Ned needed a bicycle, the year's big ticket item.

I was tucking Peter in his bed one night, and from the tenderness I saw in his big blue eyes, I could tell he had been thinking. Knowing enough about the situation, he then made a sacrificial offer. Lying there looking up at me and in his most quiet voice, he told me to take any money we would spend on him and use it instead toward the bicycle for his little brother.

On Christmas morning, Ned got his bicycle and Santa came to see Peter, too, but what I remember most from that year is the loving heart of the selfless big brother.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Today's Visit

While I was “retired” I started visiting an elderly couple in a nursing home. I heard that the woman was not doing well and decided I must see her today. She and her husband had shared a room since coming there, but his dementia had gotten so bad that he had to be moved to the Alzheimer’s area. When I arrived, Betsy was in her room being tended to by staff and was eventually transferred from bed to wheelchair. Then I sat on a chair across from her and tried to talk. On previous visits she was able to slowly but accurately converse with me, and told such things as how she and her husband met and fell in love, and she shed tears over having to leave her beloved dog. (I used to do a life review with my home health patients.) In my line of work, when people get old and have certain symptoms, it can be hard to tell if they have depression or dementia, but this woman to me clearly had depression. When I saw her today, I could tell how profound it has become. She asked how my family was and then shut down except for saying how she missed her husband. He had gotten to the point he was not able to give anything in the relationship, but she knew he was around, and women need to have someone to care for and care about. The staff person went to get him ready for supper and eventually pushed him into Betsy’s room so they could eat together. She lit up when she saw him and offered, “Hi Sweetheart," and he looked at her with a momentary smile as if it were an old reflex. There were no words in him to come out, and he soon started to tug on the big wheel on her wheelchair as if he wanted to fix something. I have noticed that when men get dementia they often want to work with their hands. I waited with them for what seemed like a long time as they sat with wheelchairs touching and no more speaking, and I thought about them as young lovers, and busy successful adults, and parents rearing their sons, and how we never know how our lives will turn out. Our lives begin with hope and sometimes end in despair.

Monday, December 20, 2010

All Heart

The moon was spectacular this evening as I was driving home from work. It was big and round and bright with rust colored and deep gray shadows that swayed across it. The awesome, eerie appearance seemed to presage the rare eclipse that will come in the wee small hours of the night. I dug my camera out of my pocketbook and snapped a few pics through the windshield. They captured the idea, but this one, taken as I took off from a red light, puts the moon in a heartfelt pose.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ornaments are special

Never one to rush Christmas, I decorated my newly purchased North Carolina Fraser fir today. The ornaments are all seasoned and loved. Though I have none from my childhood - I wish I did - I have lived long enough to have quite a collection beginning with those aquired in turbulent sixties. There are newer ones also, the most recent coming from an outdoor German market that I visited last year in December. Some are done by the hands of children, or my own, and others - like this pretty glass car that is showing wear - were purchased. No matter how they came to my tree, each one is a story unto itself. I go over those stories annually. I take time to remember important people and events and am grateful.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Non-Christmas Duty

Sometimes I make bad decisions. Last week the guys who did my kitchen and other helpful things called to say they didn't have any work to do. Would I like for them to do the next project we discussed, the master bedroom closet redo? My common sense side whispered no, but my charitable side voiced, " . . . uh . . . OK." Those poor guys with no work at Christmas time.

The night before they came we emptied the closet, no small task. It was as if all the clothes were vacuumed packed in there because they seem to fluff up and multiply as we spread them around the bedroom and layered them on the couch and chairs in the living room. Not exactly what I call decorating for Christmas. After my pointing out to the guys yesterday that this is Christmas week, that I am always stressed during Christmas anyway, and please do not take your sweet time, they are working furiously today painting, measuring, sawing, and hammering. I am not distracting them, but they don't do shabby work and are not going to compromise on quality, even for a closet nobody will see. When they finish, my job of refilling begins, well into Christmas week.

January would have been a better time to do this.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lots of Candles Today

Happy birthday to my first born son who thrived in spite of his young and inexperienced mother. It must have been the love that did it. It took me a while to get the hang of handling this slippery little human, but in a matter of months as Trip grew in size and personality, I became pretty comfortable with the whole motherhood assignment. He gets more precious to me each year - if that is possible.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

That's Entertainment!

On these cold nights, it is fun to have a television show to look forward to watching like my current favorite, The Sing Off. Between working and then some home duties and watching those good acapella singers, I didn't have time to post a thought here!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What's in a name?

Today as I walked into my favorite big box store, the one where if you time it right you can graze from the buffet for lunch, the guy who checks the membership card was waving a sleeve of papers at me imploring, “Don’t forget your holiday stamps.” I replied, “I already have my Christmas stamps,” emphasis on Christmas. Where was that coming from, I wondered. I sounded just like my mother when she, to my embarrassment, would get irritated in public places. As if that weren’t enough, when I got to the counter to pick up my photographs, the girl asked, “Are you here for holiday cards or just prints?” Correcting her I answered, “I’m not here for Christmas cards.” Realizing I spoke too softly, a more confident tone with “I am not here for CHRISTMAS cards,” erupted from my mouth. There she was again. My mother’s voice. Not the words but the definite tone.

The word holiday is being forced upon us everywhere. In some ways I don’t mind the substitution since many traditions around this time of year seem to dishonor Christmas. After all what does Grandma getting run over by a reindeer really have to do with Christmas? (For that matter, what does it have to do with any holiday except maybe a day off from school or work to attend the funeral.) And though sleigh bells, roasting chestnuts, and Frosty the Snowman are linked with the big season, they really just celebrate winter. But when we get to angels, good will among men, bells, joy and peace, the giving of gifts, and those twelve days, then I suggest we stick with calling it what it is, Christmas, a day and a season that most people around the world celebrate in one way or another

Monday, December 13, 2010

O Holy Night

One Christmas song I never tire of hearing is O Holy Night. I love it best sung by a superb soprano with a huge range, like Sandi Patty, who can thrill me with those perfectly pitched ultra high notes, but there are many wonderful renditions. This week a ten year old prodigy sang it like a pro at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. Who is your favorite singer of this beautiful carol?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Chore or Pleasure?

I have a love-hate feeling about wrapping presents. It started when I was sixteen and worked at Penney's in the back of the store wrapping presents for the week or two before Christmas. I was taught how to make the packages pretty with tight, symmetrical corners on their nice paper, properly placed tape, and a lovely bow. I took pride in my dollar an hour job, but as I saw the lines of waiting shoppers with purchases getting longer and longer, I had to hustle. Behavior being mostly learned, over the years my wrapping has become much more hustle than neat and pretty. To my shame . . .

Presents can be beautifully wrapped in many ways, from silver paper tied with shimmering silver bows to a child's special homemade paper. My grandmother had her own identifiable style of wrapping that - looking back - must have been in vogue then. She used white tissue paper with red or green curling ribbon and often placed a sticker or two somewhere on the top. Each year I wrap a few the same way (without the sticker) as I remember her. Christmas is a time of carrying on traditions, is it not? Those bags that are so commonly used to hold presents now are practical especially for odd shaped or bulky items, but I don't think they hold a glowing votive to any kind of paper with ribbon. And a present without ribbon? Like sending it off in its underwear!

Off to finish my wrapping. I will try to do a better job on the ones remaining just in case my grandchildren will carry a memory of if into the future.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Any Cookie Can Be a Christmas Cookie

Since Christmas time is also cookie time, I thought I would post one of my favorite recipes. It is a basic cookie, but the baker can add whatever she wants to the finished dough, and I do. Tidbits like Heath bar crunch, coconut, any kind of chips or nuts, dried fruits like raisins or cranberries, as much as you like, just make a more delicious cookie.

Cowboy Cookies

one cup white sugar
one cup brown sugar
one cup Crisco (or 1/2 cup Crisco and 1/2 cup butter)
two eggs
one teaspoon vanilla
two cups sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
one teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
two cups old fashioned - not quick cooking - oats
Chips, nuts, fruit, the more the merrier, whatever you heart desires.

Bake small or large spoonfuls at 350 til delicately puffed and golden.

A tip for keeping cookies fresh in the can: Put a slice of bread in it.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Christmas Thought

I sometimes think we expect too much of Christmas Day. We try to crowd into it the long arrears of kindliness and humanity of the whole year. As for me, I like to take my Christmas a little at a time, all through the year. And thus I drift along into the holidays--let them overtake me unexpectedly--waking up some fine morning and suddenly saying to myself: 'Why this is Christmas Day!'

Ray Stannard Baker, pseud. David Grayson (1870-1946), American author, journalist

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ringing Those Bells

It is Christmastime and the Salvation Army bell ringers are out in force. I think it's a great idea. Kids can drop change in the red kettles or generous grown ups can put folded bills through the slot. Little by little maybe they get enough money to fund some of their good causes during the year. When I pass the ringers, I try to notice what they are like. Some are quiet and just stand and swing the bell. Others greet the public and make conversation as if they love what they are doing. Today I had to go to the Kmart across from the hospital, and its ringer was an cherubic, old black woman who sang Winter Wonderland as the shoppers passed by on this bitingly cold afternoon. As I started singing along under my breath that old Christmas spirit welled up in me. Christmas is a good time for giving.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Old Soldiers

Today marks the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack that brought America into World War II. Remembrances of that war are slipping deeper into history, and as the people who remember it die, their stories die with them. However as I was thinking about that this morning, I remembered some stories my daddy wrote about his experiences in the war. I got them out and decided to post one today.

Discharge

I remember very well my last month in the Army. It was at the Naval Base in Norfolk, Va, and at that time of year it was very cold. We were assigned to a one story barracks. We were furnished an Army cot, two woolen blankets and a bucket for coal to be used in the potbellied stove, which was at the end of the barracks. The shingles on the roof were withered and shrunken as were the walls of the barracks. It seemed we had snow most of the night and during the day. The snow blew into the barracks and in the morning someone was detailed to sweep it out.
I remembered a tip that veterans of the Battle of the Bulge gave me: newspaper is good insulation. I got some and put a sheet between the cot and under the blanket I slept on and a newspaper over my body and under the blanket on top of me. I got a little chilly but not as near as cold as before I learned my little trick.
I spent only a week and a half there but it seemed much longer. All we did day after day was sit on the bunks and play casino, poker, bridge, or black jack.
I was put aboard a train at Norfolk and was sent to Camp Grant, Ill to get discharged. I remember seeing a lot of "Kilroy was here" signs. It was hard for me to sleep at Camp Grant. What was civilian life like? I was a professional soldier. Could I get a job after discharge? Would I join the Mafia or the 52-20 club? Goodbye U.S. Army. You gave me many interesting experiences.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Messiah

Yesterday the church choir sang several selections from Handel's Messiah. I wish I could have been up there with them. Messiah has many wonderful memories for me beginning when I first heard it in church when I was perhaps thirteen. I was squirmy then and found the solos much too long and boring, but when the loud and lively choruses began I managed to take notice. Pretty soon I was singing along in the alto section with my sweet daddy behind me in the bass section. I'm so glad I was influenced by Daddy's infectious enthusiasm for "The Messiah" and that it became a part of my Christmases. In late fall of those long ago years, we started practicing our parts at home, especially the runs in "For Unto Us" which I really didn't fully get until I was in my forties. I doubt that my rhythmically challenged daddy ever got them at all. The real practices were so disciplined that even yesterday I stood totally still until the final orchestral flourish of each chorus. Messiah was something Daddy and I looked forward to doing together wherever we could, and every Christmas I seek someplace to hear it. I am glad I caught a performance during this - his birthday - week. He would have liked that.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

today's pic(k)

This photo of Ashley's shadow was left in the camera from last weekend. I tweaked it a bit and thought it was sort of cute.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

TSO

Here is a half minute from the spectacular show/concert. video

Friday, December 3, 2010

Thanks, Uncle Rob

Christmas presents can be hard to choose, but for a few recent years Rob and Susan have given me some really thoughtful and useful gifts with the grandchildren in mind. After Mom and Dad left on Thanksgiving, Ashley and John immediately wanted to play with the hand puppets, a well worn and well loved present from a few Christmases ago. They get behind the big ottoman, the makeshift stage, make up all sorts of cute stories and dialogue and are entertained for hours. Sometimes I am more than the audience and create my own hippo or monkey character, too. Ol' Million face, a block face changing game that was around when I was little, is another favorite. Surprisingly we still have all the pieces. And I used the tin plates this visit, and we looked through the big classic toy book, and I thought how I wanted to tell Rob thank you! Before long his grandson will be big enough to visit and play. Maybe this Christmas I can find some cool stuff for them to enjoy together.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

silly school boys

My car was iced over when I got in it this morning, and I was dressed for winter including gloves to grip the cold steering wheel. As I was leaving my neighborhood I saw a teenage boy waiting for the school bus wearing only jeans and a tee shirt. brrr... I wanted to stop and ask...where is your jacket, young man? He must have left home without the watchful eye of a mother and would surely freeze to death before the bus arrived. Then I wondered what Jacob was wearing to school today. I hoped he was warm. I have yet to understand why boys do this. Maybe they think they are tough, brave or invincible and a coat makes them look wimpy. Or maybe it's just seems too darned much trouble for the short time they must wear it. Eventually they will appreciate the need to dress for cold weather. A few years and some episodes of hypothermia. That'll teach 'em!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Day of rest

I took yesterday off - from work and from everything else. Thanksgiving week is happy but busy, and I decided I needed a good break before the Christmas season starts. When I realized I was the only one who would care if my self imposed duties were done or not, I put everything on hold and let myself do some vegging out. I lay in bed until I felt all my muscles relax, listened to Christmas music on my new Bose radio, and drank no stimulating beverages that could interfere with my relaxation. It was a totally lovely day.