Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Last Day of Christmas

So, there's a lunacy, a luxury about.

I was combing Obi's luxurious coat, trying to pry out some mats.  He was through with it before I was.  So he grabbed the metal comb in his little paws, and then sat on the comb so I couldn't get to  it.  He took it away from me and hid it.  There's always more to animals than you think.

So church stuff.  I made cookies for different groups of people, and took them to the early service this week.  Lilly came and sat with me, and saw the bag and the small bags within that were filled with Christmas cookies.  Lilly and her sister Lea are two kids who have come with challenges, and it's plain hard work for them just to  grow up.  Lea is a creative genius, and Lilly is a endlessly curious, high energy kid.  They've adopted our buddy Tim as their God-father, and Tim adopted them right back. Lilly was looking for Tim.  When she saw the cookies, she asked me if there were any cookies in there for Lea and her.  She asked with that tiny whisper that kids use when they are entirely unsure.  I pulled out a bag and a card, with their grandma's and their names' on it.  Lilly carefully read the card, gave me a Christmas hug, and then quick, like a bunny, was off to share the bag with her family.  Grandma said her face was covered in joy, that someone had remembered them at Christmas.

You just never know what small acts of kindness might be important.

I was at the Christmas eve service and was trying to help with some necessary tasks.  (I don't know how helpful I was; I spilled coffee all over the computer and a whole stack of bulletins.)  Anyways, I was talking to the task leader, Kelly, a young mom with two little kids and a brilliant husband, whom we are very fond of.  Kelly was decked in a slinky black dress with some amount of cleavage, bright red lipstick, and beautifully done hair.  I told her how pretty and how saucy she looked.  She gave me a big wink and whispered,  "That's what I was going for.  The sexy elf look."

So, the Christmas eve service, the early shift, the 2:00 p.m. the first of seven services.  It's always a beautiful service, with our liveliest singers, everybody dressed in red, somewhere, somehow. About 200 people.  Toward the end of the service, when the lights go down and the candles are lit, in comes the Holy Family.  I don't notice them until they are past me.  To my great surprise, Baby Jesus is a real baby.  An even bigger surprise, who the child was, and who the parents are.  Three or four years ago, I made friends with two high school girls.  One of those kids is in college, with sterling grades.  The other girl fell in love, was inseparable from her young boyfriend.  As you  might predict, there was an early pregnancy,  and this is the mom, the boyfriend, and the baby.  They might have married, or they might have not.  They are still really young.  But those two young people are devoted parents, very clear about what they know, and what they don't.  They both are extremely attentive, proud parents, and the child is flourishing, clearly in love with both mom and dad.  After the service, another young mom is looking for help, although this one is married, with some money, a gorgeous young woman.  She says she is part of the Holy Family for the next service.  She and her husband have adopted a baby.  There is a chance that the child is of a different race than the parents.  It seemed to me that when we talked, she was expecting a foreign child.  

Every family is a Holy Family, no matter; and every child is to be  loved, adored, protected.

A little Christmas Christmas. I am a fine cookie cooker, and I was passing out bags of cookies for sharing. I had a bag for Cousin Julie, so she could offer cookies to her guests. I slipped her bag of cookies between us on the seats. And then they flat-out disappeared from planet Earth. Gone. If I hadn't shown them to Julie minutes before, I would have thought I was losing my mind. People behind us looked. No cookies. That was exceedingly odd. Then Julie cracked the case: One of our homeless men that Julie recognized had been sitting in the seat behind us. He vanished, along with the cookies. The cookies probably slipped out between the seats, the chairs are constructed so that could easily happen,  and literally landed on his feet. Can you imagine what that was like? Being so danged hungry and cold you can't see straight and then having Christmas cookies fall on your feet? At church? 

That pretty much seems like a Christmas miracle.

And my family.  My beauteous niece and nephew  are home for now, brilliant kids both.  Grandma Rita and Cousin Julie are cancer survivors.  Julie had another scare this fall (that turned out fine) and Grandma Rita completed her treatments a few months ago.  Steve and Maggie, my brother and sister-in-law, have a beautiful home, and the smells of the season are perfuming the house.  It is the Christmas that everybody wants:  a family that gets along, that actually likes each other; presents that are worthy but not over-done,  a big beautiful tree, kids you are proud of, kids who are kind, hard-working, and gorgeous.  It's an easy, companionable evening, sweet and deeply loving, grateful and warm.  

And that is entirely enough.   

Blessings, Everyone.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Third Day of Christmas

     Presents come to you in different forms.  Already Christmas has been packed with such abundance, you can't imagine.

Wildlife.  In our pretty little city, we're just on the cusp of the mountains to the east and the north, and the dessert to the south and the West.  So wildlife come calling fairly frequently.  Three deer came through our V.A. hospital grounds and wound up on a downtown street.  Three teen-aged boys were trying to herd deer in downtown traffic with shouts of real joy and purpose.  You should have seen their glowing faces as they got the deer to safety.                                                                                                                                

Next up, geese.  Honking, hissing, pooping geese come to our town in early winter.  We're a stopping off point on their migration routes between the Arctic and Mexico.  Every wide expanse of grass, like a baseball diamond, has hundreds if not thousands of the birds.  I really love them when they land, coming in on those low, slow spirals.  They are a presence.  For sure.

Next, a little golden fox sprinted across my front yard when I got home.  Now I know what it means to high-tail it. They are  endearing as they sit for awhile and watch me walk across their landscape.  Love those little guys too.

So Christmas pageants. This is the big, city-wide Christmas celebration that our church presents for the community.  They hosts about a thousand people for each service, and there are three services.  Grand events, each one of them.  The church is awash in candle light, and every choir  sings a song, even the 3- and 4-year-olds.  Their scrubbed-until-they-are-gleaming little faces are enough for tears, and it's so fun to watch the proud, and a little bit watchful, parents.  Such a rite of passage.
Paul, our own personal music man, writes, directs, and publishes beautiful, powerful pieces for large choirs  and small orchestras—just the right number of people for our smallish choir space and altar.  Paul's music is majestic, beautiful, full of passion and grace.  It truly does take the heart and refuses to give it back.  He's been rough on batons, lately, and broke another one because it got caught in the  collar  of his tux—while he was wearing it.

Then on Sunday  morning I got to talk to Mary and her parents.  Mary is my nephew Scott's girlfriend, and we love her already.  She is such a solid citizen, such a love, such a way-smart student.  It's too soon and they are young just yet.  But I'm hoping for a long lasting, brilliant relationship.

And literary Christmas parties.  Two friends of mine, Rita and Judy, published significant books in the same month: The Blue Doorknob and The Angel of Esperanca. Both are books that have been decades in the making.  Both women have had life-altering health and family issues that lasted years, so the writing came and went, and then came again.  Rita was off to a signing at a local book shop, and Judy came to read to us.  It was at Sue's lovely house on the river, and we have just enough snow to claim winter.  The whole house was adorned with Christmas, coming in heavy on the scents of carrot and sweet potato stew with a little curry and ginger, a roasted winter vegg salad, breads with a lovely crust, and my own little oat and cranberry cookies, which were so delicate and light.  All of that and a little champagne to toast these two magnificent writers.

Then there was Julie, whom you may know had a big  bout with cancer.  She'd had a questionable blood test a while back.  Turned out there was an itty-bitty cancer, which could be taken care of with an uptake in meds. It's not going to upset  Julie's life in any way.  Scared us into next year, those things do.  She's OK.

My job this week was to take a couple of Christmas boxes to Inga.  Inga is a shut-in, her family is in another town.  Our church sent out nearly 250 (about $70 each)  of those boxes to people who need them.  I kept hauling in stuff, hauling in stuff, hauling in stuff.  Inga, who lives on her social security check, was stunned.  "This will feed me for three months," she said.  "I love all of it."

If that was not enough, my church family took me out for dinner to celebrate my 66th birthday.   And my family family did the same thing, only we celebrated at home. Both kids were home.  Just the best.

Beautiful, beautiful, a thousand times beautiful.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Creaky, Squeaky Cold

                      So, we lost the photo credits for this photo.  If you let me know who took it, I'll give credit where credit is due.  This is my town.

Two or three times a winter, we get inversions.  That's where the cold air from Canada and Alaska swoops down from the North, settles into our protected little valleys, sending the warmer air aloft, where it does us no dang good.

Aiyiyi, we're laughing today because people in  LA are bemoaning their 40-degree winters.  It's not particularly happy laughter.  We're high into judgement here.   I went to church on Sunday in minus 7 degree weather.  My car never did warm up.  Every bump in the road caused creaks and groans.  That was me.  The car was worse.

We are hunkered down, little nips of something or other in the hot chocolate, little nips of something else in the apple cider.  It can be a season of joy and warmth, if you work it right.  A fireplace.  A good chili.  Homemade bread.  Family and friends to share it with.  A book you can't get out of.  Some old movies that make you laugh out loud.  The Awful Truth.  Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.  Little Miss Sunshine with Olive and her peppery grandpa.

So, here is my chili recipe.  Best served on a cold, cold day.

An onion, chopped up into smallish pieces.
5-6 cloves of garlic, minced

Cook those down in a little  bit of olive oil, until they are soft.

The add 11/2 pounds of meat.  Can be hamburger, ground chuck, veal, pork, chicken.  Or all of that mixed  together.  Let the meat brown in the onion and garlic mixture.  Season with Salt and Pepper.

Add 1-3 cans of beans.  Your preference: red beans, black beans,  white beans.  The more people you are feeding, the more beans you'll need.  Add 2 cans of beef broth and 2 cans of tomato. . . somethings: sauce, diced, mashed. Whatever you like.  Start with a can each of the tomato and broth.  See if that's enough.  Add more if you need it.

Then begin layering  in some veggies:  a red pepper, 1 - 3 fiery peppers—taste as you go, a green pepper or two, roast those in the oven until the skins are blacked, take the skins off, add a can or two of corn, some sliced zuchini, maybe some mushrooms.  Add a tablespoon of cumin and then another of oregano, 1-4 tablespoons of ground California chili, some paprika, about a teaspoon.

Let it all settle in the pot for the afternoon.  When you ladle the chili into pottery bowls,  top it off with pine nuts, some chopped cilantro, some avocado diced, and a rich shredded cheddar.   An icy full-bodied beer goes ever so well with the chili.

See, it's not so bad.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Second Day of Christmas

Last night, at church, we had a roast beef dinner and Christmas-Advent party for the kids.  The room was lined with Christmas trees, lighted and sweet as a peppermint.  After Christmas last year, our leaders asked that if anybody had an artificial tree they wanted to download if they would bring it to church.  Lots of people did that and some of the trees were large enough it took two people to carry them.

So now there are Christmas trees in every nook of the church.  There must be twenty in the worship center, alone, brilliant in a glow of little white lights.  So charming.  It was fun to see the little kids interacting with their parents while they were decorating Christmas cookies, singing at a bonfire—in 17-degree weather, and making beautiful advent calendars.  Some kids were pretty slap-dash about the task; others were the sheerest artists.  

Our maintenance guys are going to be scooping up glitter for  a month.

I talked to Bob for awhile.  He'd lost his wife in the last year and was facing down their first Christmas apart.  He and his children were doing something brilliant, traveling to Mexico, sans too many presents, creating new traditions, new celebrations.  He was hopeful, sturdy of spirit, infused with a little bit of grace.  I'm guessing that as rough as it might be, the whole blessed family will come through suffused with strength and light.  Exactly what a father should be doing, leading his children along long and difficult paths.

Then I got hugs from Charlie, one of the little boys I loved from Vacation Bible School.  We hadn't had a lot of time to talk for a while.  Charlie is driven by extraordinary energy levels. One of his blessings is being in a school well prepared for his kind of issues and that takes him seriously exactly as he is.  Charlie explained to me the math that is rolled up in square roots, that he loves math, and, I'm guessing here, very soon science, being about eight years old, a third grader.  He is the sweetest little guy, guided by ever so vigilant Mom and Dad.  They have two other kids, and they are both gifted children.  There are lots of parents here that are fully engaged with their children, teaching, revealing the big truths, being present and accounted for.

Life turns out to be really hard work for some people.

Christmas is getting more poignant by the second.