Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The most wonderful time

I'm the first to say that Christmas is too commercialized.

I'm the first to complain about the focus on Santa, on spending, on the perfect gifts.

I've also been known to speak ill of too much concentrated family time, of the chaos, of crabby little brats and tired, embittered adults who fill each Christmas season.

But now I must speak of the other side: the reason we observe this day.

There was a babe born, laid in a manger, adored by strangers. There was a star that guided them there. I believe these things; they are not mere stories. Does it really matter whether it happened on that particular day? That the season in which we celebrate may or may not have been determined by pagans? That the baby might not have looked the way I picture Him, or the way that thousands of other artists have depicted His royal countenance? The point is this: He came. Here. To be one of us, because it was the best way to be "with us."

With us. Emmanuel.

If you don't know this King, I pray that you will. I pray He will come into your heart and stay. But—you must invite Him in. He will never force His way, will never pry the lock on your distrusting soul. It takes a small step by you, and a giant leap by Him.

Don't let Christmas in the land of materialism harden your heart. Hear that babe knocking. Picture Him, like any other little one. But not like any other: so much more. He is our greatest gift of all. He is hope. He is love. He is your savior, your friend, if you let Him.

Merry Christmas to you. It is merry, in spite of whatever is happening right now. We have a Savior. His name is Christ, the Lord.

P.S. Here is a link to a blog for a pastor at our church; it has a neat little story about Handel's composing The Messiah. Check it out!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The boots that kept on giving

All this thinking about Christmases past brought yet another memory to my mind—several, in fact. I started to recall certain gifts I'd received that stood out for some reason or another: one year it was a Ballerina Barbie, another it was a fuzzy musical bear that was presented to me early because I was deathly ill over the entire Christmas holiday (I still have the bear), and yet another Christmas it was a ski vest of sorts that I immediately wore ice skating, that very day, on the frozen creek across the road from my childhood home.

But the most memorable gift was one that kept on giving, months and even years after it had been received. The oddest thing is that the gift was not even given to me. It was given to my sister, L.

L. was older than me, was becoming more fashion- and trend-conscious, and had been pining for what were called "moon boots." (Do you remember them, too? They were bigger, awkward, early versions of the sleeker styles seen now. And remember, this was back in the day when giant, plodding boots were uncommon on young girls.) Moon boots were huge, thick, nearly-knee-high padded footwear; they truly resembled the giant barges that our own moon explorers sported as they tripped the light fantastic across the surface of that cheesy orb. Sis L. really wanted some of those boots. I do believe they were the top item on her Christmas list.

Happily, she received the yearned-for moon boots. Lo and behold, she unwrapped them on that shining morning; they were incredibly bulky and electric blue. I think they might have sported some sort of thick stripe on them? The details elude me now; it's been too many years.

Now, I was the youngest kid in my family. And my feet were smaller than my sister's. But, just as my son loves to clomp around in my Bean Gum Boots, I occasionally would slip on the moon boots for just a few minutes. To go feed the cats and dogs outside, perhaps. To toss grain or hay to the ponies. To shovel a quick path out the back door. Each time a chore loomed, there were those crazy blue boots, so ready, so available. I even wore them a couple of times to go out for lengths of time. We all did. I am pretty certain my mom fed the birds in them, and I have a vague recollection that perhaps my dad even slipped them on one time? We all marveled at the boots, which weighed practically nothing but were so warm you could wear them without socks and still not have cold feet. They were universally pulled on and into use...and they were universally appreciated.

I cannot recall whatever happened to the beloved boots. I know that we adored them so much, they eventually began to break down a bit. But it was long after they'd met countless outdoor feet needs for pretty much the entire family. They were every bit as ugly as today's stumbly, clumsy Crocs and knockoffs—and they were every bit as delightful, too.

A strangely fond memory of an unlikely subject—but there it is.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

At the meadow

Christmas memories are always littered with the same mental images for me: crowds of people at my parents' home, the tree in the same corner because that's where it fits best, bags of presents stacked under and around it, my grandma "bellied up" to the dining room table, declaring with nearly every large bite that she just doesn't have much of an appetite any more... But for some reason, one Christmas Day stands out more clearly than the rest.

It was an unseasonably warm day, probably in the 60s, clear and mildly sunny. (I was probably in upper elementary school, perhaps 5th or 6th grade; I'm not sure, and it really doesn't matter.) We'd opened all the gifts hours before, had sifted through them multiple times, tried on the clothes, played with the toys, snacked on unhealthy cookies until we were all half sick. And someone had the idea that we should walk to the meadow.

What is the meadow? It is exactly as it sounds, a vast expanse of verdant lushness that sits high atop the hills behind my parents' house. We walked to it a couple of times each year, as I recall, perhaps not quite so often. Mid- to late-spring was the best time to go. It was a bit of a hike, and as summer progressed, the climb took more and more patience and stamina because of the seasonal (and yearly) increase of weeds and scrubby shrubs on the hillside. The path was steep, not even really defined; the effort required that you avoid the grabbing undergrowth, face-slapping branches, and sticky burrs. Lastly, you crossed a dilapidated barbed-wire fence and walked along the side of the hill on a rudimentary road of sorts.

Even when the road ended and you'd gotten to the top, saw the green stretching out before you and thought you'd arrived, you still had some walking to do in order to reach the crest of the highest rounded peak. You trudged along, tired, probably scratched from briars, thirsty if you hadn't remembered to bring some water (I don't recall ever doing so because we knew we could steal a drink from the natural spring on the way back down). You walked some more. You kept your eye on the prize.

Then, you were there. The tip. The pinnacle. The zenith. Boy, was it worth all the trouble.

All the way into the little town you gazed, and you were looking down on the world. There were neighbors' cottages tucked away, more crowded neighborhoods farther away, the big red brick hospital... I think we could even see aspects of the nearby coal mines. You stood atop the world, looking down on creation as the song goes, and you heard nothing. Only the breeze, sometimes rather brisk because you were out of the valley at last. It was heady, to say the least. The descent was more leisurely, of course, being downward-sloping and broken by a cold stream of spring water that spurted from an overflow pipe next to our reservoir.

And that Christmas Day hike was no different. I think I remember it so clearly because it is the only time I recall making the hike in the "off" season. The climb was less taxing because nothing was growing. The view, although more brown, was no less spectacular; in fact, we could see even more of the miniature world that lay far below. There we were, at the end of December, with our light jackets tied around our waists, standing in peace and surrounded by balmy openness. It was as if we'd carried the joy of the day with us, carried it all the way into a misplaced breath of spring. It drifted up from us like a kite, buoyed by light winds and our good spirits, dancing overhead.

Truly a Christmas to cherish.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

An update

Hi, all. Nothing much to report here. The pace of life has suddenly increased in speed and intensity, probably because of the time of year and the sudden crappiness of the weather. I don't have a lot to say; I've vacillated among writing an angry, involved segment about how women make Christmas happen, or another about how poorly people drive the closer we get to the holiday, or a third nasty post about health insurance in general.

In the interest of remaining positive, I've ruled against all of those posts—for today, at least—and have opted instead for a quick, happy note to wish you a stress-free (yeah, right) pre-Christmas week. Remember to leave the credit cards at home, and have seconds of the salad instead of all the stuff you really want.

Now, if I could just travel back in time and get those salad seconds instead of... Oh, never mind.

I'll be back soon with some sort of Christmas memory. I'm in the process of dredging them all up now, and sorting through them so as to toss out the ugliest ones that require therapy. We'll see what remains after that.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The infiltration

My boss loves to bake and cook, as do I. Many Mondays find us exchanging casserole samplings or baked goods, the occasional cookies, etc. It's fun, and a nice way to break up the monotony of eating meals at work, which can get pretty dull.

Recently, a new week began and I found a lovely pumpkin muffin awaiting my return to the office after a weekend. There it sat on my desk, pretty and browned, wrapped in clear cellophane, beckoning to me. I was strong and left it sitting next to my keyboard; I had plenty to eat already that day, the office traffic was frenetic, and as I bustled about talking to clients, I thought about how it would brighten the following afternoon.

The next workday came, and a couple of hours into the day I looked longingly at the muffin. It would be tasty with a cuppa tea... and then I saw it. Crumbs near the wrapper. I eat so many things at my desk that I assumed my own messy nature had brought about the crumbs; I'd probably dribbled them from a recent cookie or bread. But no. A closer look revealed something in the cellophane wrap that made me shudder: a hole.

A nibbled hole. A small, rough-edged entry, further marked by an indentation in the muffin itself. A perfect little proof of rodent infestation.

I looked. I looked again. I turned to my boss, who sits behind me. "How concerned should I be about this?"

She glanced at my computer screen, assuming I'd managed to invite yet another virus into the office server. She looked pointedly at the monitor, perplexed. "What?"

"No, THIS." I indicated the hole in the muffin with a disgusted finger.

She looked, and looked more closely. Her face changed completely; the inquisitive, confused expression was suddenly repulsed, her mouth twisted involuntarily, her brows rose and her eyes widened. "Oooooooooh!"

"Oh, yes." We looked at the ruined muffin with shared horror. She mentioned some earlier indications from months ago, where she'd wondered whether there was an issue but had blamed the bad-mannered, sloppy students. Now, though, we knew: sloppy though those students may be, they were not to blame for shredded candy wrappers. Oh, no.

I threw some of my now-contaminated food stash away, and left only a lone granola bar and a foil-wrapped bag of rice crisps. Mice couldn't eat through foil, could they? They couldn't get inside the desk drawers. My goods were safe.

The next morning, I am saddened to say I learned I was so very wrong; yes, they eat through foil, and yes, they can climb inside desk drawers.

All the food has since been banished from my clearly penetrable desk, straight into the work-kitchen garbage. And the traps sit, waiting. Poised to catch a mouse. Set to snap on an unsuspecting, treat-seeking critter. A sly, sneaky, hungry pest that, if I saw it, would likely charm me with its cuteness.

But I have not seen it. I see only the evidence of its filthy, thieving ways. When next I see it, IF next I see it, I hope it is caught.

Truth be told, I'm hoping it realizes what it's up against and just moves elsewhere. I really don't want it dead. I just don't want it in my desk. OR in my baked goods. YUCK.