Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Alas, It Is Christmas

it is Christmas
A time of good cheer
of knowing the reason the season is here

We warm up our homes for those who have traveled
with memories and stories and laughter unraveled
We wish and we hope for all the grand things
and tie them with ribbons and papers and strings

But all that we pray for is peace on this earth
and a love for each other and all that that’s worth
A time to reflect on the seasons of past
We smile for our loved ones and raise up a glass:

To all that is magic
and all that is tragic
and all that we want life to be
To all that we stay for
and all that we pray for
belief in the things we can’t see

So we hold each other as we sit by the fire
and lift up our hearts to something much higher
And believe...
... just believe
for Alas, it is Christmas...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

If I say I liked this book, you might think I am sick and twisted. And if I say I didn't like it, then you might think I am an old prude. The fact of the matter is, I enjoyed the author's essays about his family as I always have. The first piece about working as an elf at Macy's is hilarious, although I must say, listening to him read it is much funnier than reading it yourself! The pieces that were NOT about his own family were just plain weird ... almost to the point of being sad. I miss the days when David Sedaris made me laugh out loud on the train. Frankly, I could have used a good belly laugh before Christmas, although I don't know about that whole bowl-full-of-jelly thing!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Something More Than Oranges, Peanuts and Underpants!

When I was a kid, the fine line between God and Santa became very, very blurry shortly after Thanksgiving! The evening prayers turned to wishes, changing from, “Dear God, please let my sister not make fun of me tomorrow, and don’t let them find the library book hidden between my mattresses” to “Dear Santa, I have been very, very good this year.”
Which was only a tiny lie, really. I wasn’t actually a bad kid, although I certainly thought I was. Like my whole world was just one giant fork in the road with me repeatedly making the wrong choice!
So, while the turkey and potatoes were still digesting, I began my month-long campaign with Santa Claus.
“Dear Santa, I have been a very good girl this year....”. While it was mostly true, I sometimes fell asleep trying to come up with supporting evidence. So, I would begin again the next night and the next, “Dear Santa, as I mentioned last night, I have been a very good girl this year and I really only want one little thing for Christmas: a puppy!”
I still want a puppy for Christmas. Although I have three dogs, I think nothing could be more special and exciting than a little ball of fluff with a red satin ribbon tied around it’s neck gnawing on all the other presents under the tree!
“Dear Santa, I have been a very good girl this year and I really only want one little thing for Christmas: a puppy! .... oh, but I do like those little red wagons with the fence around them..... yeah, just a puppy and a Fency Wagon. That’s all.”
This conversation with Santa went on for many nights as the weather turned colder and colder, and the list got longer and longer.
“Dear Santa, I have been a very good girl this year and I really only want one thing for Christmas: a puppy! ... and a Fency Wagon ... and perhaps a tea set, because I really do love to entertain..... and that is all!”
As time went on and I received a few scoldings, a Spanken or two (I used to think a spanking was a proper noun, Spanken. You would receive a Spanken as a gift from your mother when she misunderstood your good intentions or you, yet again, chose the wrong fork in the road!), and perhaps the threat of coal in my stocking, my wishes became more desperate,
“Dear God, will you please tell Santa that I am actually a very good girl and I really only want one little thing for Christmas: a puppy! ... and a Fency Wagon, a tea set ... and maybe for Captain Kirk to be my dad, and that’s all!”
Now, four weeks of goodness is a challenge for anyone, as you know, so things could sometimes get a little rough around the 20th of December! That’s when I had to call in the big guns!
“Dear Cher,
will you please ask God
to tell Santa that
I really am a good girl
and I only want one
little thing for

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

An Irish Country Christmas by Patrick Taylor

An Irish Country Christmas. Sounds like 500 pages of L.A.M.E., doesn’t it? But it was actually quite delightful! The story follows two country doctors (one seasoned and crusty, one young and fresh) in rural Ireland during the weeks preceding Christmas of 1964. The tale is sweet and funny and informative. The characters were brilliantly drawn and ever so endearing. Together we enjoyed walks along the sea, rugby matches won by the comical, heroic Labrador, Arthur Guinness, a botched nativity play (which made me laugh out loud in public!), a rigged lottery, many, many meals and trips to the local pub! I couldn’t help but think this would make a classic PG13 Christmas movie, and with the right actors, could be downright hilarious!
I dog-ear pages in my books as I read to remind myself of things I found interesting, funny, or memorable. Things I may want to look up later. My hardcover of An Irish Country Christmas has swollen to twice it’s size with all my page-bending! The Irish slang is quite delicious and the book is full of medical information, recipes and charming dialog! I am happy to have spent my days leading to Christmas with these heartwarming characters. I am really going to miss them!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Up On the Housetop by B. R. Hanby

I think I was approximately thirty six years old when it finally occurred to me that the words to the song were actually
"Up on the housetop reindeer pause (as in, rest for a moment while)
out jumps good ol' Santa Claus
down through the chimney with lot's of toys
all for the little ones Christmas joys...."
Ohhhhhh, they actually pause! Up until then, I thought it was
"Up on the housetop: Reindeer Paws!"
I actually thought I heard reindeer paws on the rooftop. It was probably just squirrels or my over-active imagination, but I liked it that way! Although, frankly, the way it was written really is much better.
Reindeer have hooves.
Who knew?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Choir

This, I believe, was from 1999....

I left the house this morning not especially filled with the Christmas spirit, and headed toward the mall for something I couldn't remember when I got there. I plodded through the crowd in embarrassingly dazed circles, but not really caring much. I caught a glimpse of myself in a store window and while noting it was a particularly bad hair day, I heard an old woman's voice say, "There you are!" Her excitement started me, but I recognized her instantly.
Several years ago, while working at the mall on an unusually slow morning for December, I stepped out of my store and stood where the old woman had a kiosk set up to sell gold chains. She asked what I was doing and I said, "Just enjoying the Christmas music." She mentioned that she especially loved The Mormon Tabernacle Choir at Christmastime, and we chatted briefly until we both decided we should get back to work! Later that day, while shopping, I saw a bin of 99 cent cassettes in the drug store. I thought of the woman and searched the bin for a tape of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which I found rather quickly. The next day I handed her the tape on my way to work and her sad, old eyes filled with tears. "You don't know what this means to me!" she said, and I didn't.
She then told me of her son who had been killed many years before, shortly before Christmas. The only time she could have a funeral for her one son was on Christmas Eve. In spite of her unbearable grief, she was able to take some comfort in listening to the choir. She told me she always thought of her son when she heard The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing Christmas music.
"I still have my tape!" she exclaimed presently. "And now when I listen, I think of you too!" This time is was my tired, old eyes that filled with tears, and I left the mall a smiling, sobbing mess .... and still didn't care! My 99 cent gift to her six years ago was repaid to me more generously than I could ever have imagined! I will certainly never forget her, even if I don't hear the choir! Hopefully I will never know her sadness, but I will forever be thankful for her joy!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Season of Change

When we first moved to the Washington DC area, we lived in Alexandria VA. This was the letter I sent in my Christmas cards that year.

I was overcome with emotion recently for a little girl whose picture I found in a box. A little girl with rosy cheeks and a curious smile. She was cute and funny in yellow flannel pajamas, holding a new doll freshly delivered by Santa himself!! She really had no idea about the world and all it's struggles ... not then. She was smiling for her little dolly and shy in front of the camera. Always embarrassed to be silly, although she couldn't help it. She literally had her whole life ahead of her.
We took a big step this year ... must have reached that time in our lives when we needed a change more than ever. We're at an awkward age, really. We're too old to think of yourselves as young and far too young to be considered old. We're not shy children in front of cameras anymore, certainly, but just when we think we've done it all, bold new adventures present themselves. And as we move bravely forward to carve new lives for ourselves, our heroes begin to pass without us even realizing we are becoming heroes ourselves. Time really does fly. And at that moment when we think, "well, I guess this is it..." It isn't. Life suddenly becomes exciting again.
Although we had the sad assignment of saying food-bye to Jerry's dad this year and then to our friends and family when we decided to move to Washington DC, and although we left a home and people we loved ... we are happy and peaceful in our new surroundings. It has been a year of big changes.... a lifetime full of big changes... but we are better for all of it. In saying good-bye to Jerry's father, we realized that family and loved ones live in our hearts, regardless where our hearts take us.
Now, that ruddy-cheeked little girl who smiled on Christmas mornings so long ago lives in Virginia near George Washington's home, where there were always worldly, albeit weary, travelers ... there always was and always will be plenty of room for visitors here. Plenty of space to spread out, act like a child again, be our guests!!!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Puppy Love

Our little Allie just turned eight! I realized that I wrote the following Christmas letter just as she was being born! Of course, it would be awhile before she found her way to our home, where a new puppy is always a welcome addition! Here's to eight more happy years, Allie Precious!
Christmas 2000
My little Schnauzer, Zeile (pronounced Zy-la, the name of my favorite pub in Germany) passed away in May. It was the day all the cartoons paid tribute to the late Charles M. Schulz. Although we have a new little girl now, named Wednesday, I still miss my dear friend every single day. I know not everyone is a dog lover and if you've never know how warm a cold nose can make you feel or how comforting is the touch of soft fur, I will not try to explain. But if you do know, then you also know how I've been feeling for the past several months.
I have a photo album filled with pictures of Christmas Past. It's really amazing how many pictures I have with our various beloved pets over the years. There's Molly with her pretty Christmas scarf, Smudge and Sabrina wondering what on earth to do with 3ft rawhide bones, some friends in front of the tree with their new chocolate Lab, my cousin's horses wearing Santa hats, Abbey wearing reindeer antlers, Jim the Brittany Spaniel pushing the sofa cushions under the Christmas tree, Jake opening his football, Borderline opening her soccer ball, Lucy helping to decorate cookies, and finally there is Zeile with his new pink pig!
I read a book today called The Joy of a Peanuts Christmas. Zeile always kind of reminded me of Snoopy with his human-like qualities. It is a wonderful little book, actually! I literally laughed and cried! My favorite is a piece with Woodstock and Snoopy sitting on top of the dog house. Snoopy says, "There's no use getting our hopes up ... we're the lowest of the low. Old Santa Claus couldn't care less about creatures like us! We don't count for anything! That old guy doesn't even know we exist ..." Suddenly tons of gifts and candy fall from the sky right on top of Snoopy and Woodstock. "I can't believe it!" Snoopy cries. "There's a card too? What does it say?" Snoopy reads the card, "Merry Christmas from the new improved Santa Claus!" I think that new improved Santa is the one I still believe in!!
Luckily, I have so many great pictures of Zeile and even more memories from the twelve years we spent together. I will always remember what a truly beautiful companion he was to me. In the words on Beetle Bailey: WE'LL MISS YOU, OLD FRIEND!
Take lot's of pictures this year! Whether your friends and family are furry or fleshy, you'll be glad you did!!

Monday, December 1, 2008

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

Sometimes I finish a book long before I am ready to say goodbye to its characters. When this happens, it’s difficult to start a new book. I’ll have Dracula infiltrating the home of Marley and Me or something equally nonsensical, and I just end up confused and irritated. That’s when I find myself reading People magazine or The Express, like a little commercial break between TV shows. Sometimes, even that doesn’t work, so I will read short stories or, preferably, anything by David Sedaris.
When You Are Engulfed in Flames contains some great essays by the always-funny Sedaris, and I enjoyed it as I invariably enjoy his work. His sarcasm and quirky outlook almost repeatedly ensure an easy, enjoyable read for me. This wasn’t, however, my favorite of the books I’ve read by David-san. While I certainly did chuckle throughout, it wasn’t the gut-wrenching, public guffaws I experienced when I read my first David Sedaris book, Naked! That book was outrageously hilarious and forced me to become a lifelong fan of the author! I have unquestionably enjoyed each and every piece I have read or heard of his work, but Naked will always hold a special place in my heart and the distinct honor of being my “favorite”.

Speaking of Naked

My old buddy from waaaay back in my Air Force days is African American. I mention this only because it is 100% relevant to the story. Rick and I share the same off-the-wall sense of humor that leads people to think we are constantly sharing some private joke. They’re not actually private jokes, we very often just “get it” before the words are spoken. That’s our relationship.
When I first got out of the military, I went to stay with my sister and her daughter in Iowa. Leigh was always a chatty, quirky little girl with a ton of energy. It was around the time of Rick’s first visit to Iowa when Leigh became obsessed with the word naked. She said “naken”, and the word found its way into each and every conversation one would have with the gregarious child. “Do you eat naken? Do you wash dishes naken? Do you kiss naken?” Naken, naken, naken! It was such a strange fixation!
When Rick was about to arrive, I gave Leigh a little briefing on how to act like a lady when we have house guests, and she promised to be on her absolute best behavior during his visit.
She and Rick hit it off instantly and she quickly found her comfort zone. We decided to go for a drive one day and as she was becoming more and more squirrely in the car, I unquestionably knew what was coming next, and so did she! I gave her that sideways look and simply said, “Leighhhhhhhhh......”
She looked at me with her big brown eyes and said, “Don’t worry, Becca, I won’t say The N Word!”
Fearing Rick would think all of Iowa a pack of wild racists, I literally shrieked, “NAKEN!!! NAKEN IS THE N WORD!!!!!”

oh the horror.........