“It’s A Wrap”

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The gifts need to go back to church tomorrow, so while I was wrapping them (the ones in the foreground) I went ahead and wrapped the presents for the grandkids. They are coming to church with us on Christmas Eve and then will return Christmas morning to tear into their packages.

I used to wait to wrap the kids’ presents until a few days before Christmas, but they have become skilled at finding my hiding places. Now they will just have to shake and poke the presents to guess what’s inside. It seems silly sometimes to wrap things since the paper usually gets discarded. However, I do enjoy seeing that display of red and white under the tree.

When I was three years old, I was given a present wrapped in special light blue paper with an angel with real feather wings on the front. This was an extravagant wrapping, unlike anything I had ever seen, and I insisted that we keep the paper. After that first year my mother always wrapped my best present in that paper. I knew to look for the angel package and open it last.

(The photo also gives you a little glimpse of our home. It is heated with steam radiators, seen on the right. It was built in 1929 and has wide baseboards and a chair rail all around the dining room. The paint and wallpaper were applied by me when we moved in years ago, and they have held up wonderfully. I have enjoyed pictures of other blogging friends’ homes, and wanted to share ours.)

“Nights With Amahl”

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My family was not religious and we celebrated Christmas purely as a secular day. But curiously one of the things we did each year once we had a television in 1955 was to watch “Amahl and The Night Visitors.” This operetta by Gian Menotti was commissioned by NBC and was shown throughout my childhood at Christmas time. Though it eventually was presented in color, we had only a black and white television, so we always saw it that way.

The story centers around a very poor family of a mother and a boy with a leg injury requiring him to walk with a long cane. The boy, prone to exaggerating, has trouble convincing his mother that he has seen a very bright star. Then she is furious when he insists there are three kings at the door. But in fact these are THE three kings on their way following THE star to pay homage to the baby Jesus.

Because the role requires a boy soprano, every couple of years there was a new Amahl. We argued each year about which boy sang the role best. We never discussed the meaning of the play, nor did we absorb its religious significance.

This week I listened to the forty-five minute performance available on line. As an adult, I came to have Christian faith and the operetta moved me deeply. Still part of the emotional impact hearing it again came from remembering the experience of being at peace with my family together. I will always be grateful for that yearly respite from the usual turmoil at home. Thanks Amahl.

“Full of Hot Air”

 

The decorations across the street were still deflated when I went to take pictures of them, so I went down the street to this display. Both of these scenes are in the same front yard. I am not sure what the figure in the background represents, but the bear and Santa in his hot air balloon are pretty obvious. They also have lighted boxes, lit stockings and the last set of those icicle lights around. This yard used to be populated with those straw reindeer, but they must not have survived last winter’s series of blizzards.

If you joined by blog since last Christmas, you may not have seen our display. I repeat it below:

 

 

We keep these large displays in the downstairs bath tub( providing startled reactions from visitors who don’t expect them!) The angel was in several pieces and my husband nearly gave up reassembling her this year. But a night’s sleep gave him an idea of a sturdy repair, and she is back in the front yard. The blue lights on the mountain laurel in the background are very luminous and can be seen two blocks away. They are my grandchildren’s favorites.

Now I am off to wrap presents for the church drive. Each year we take gift tags with specific requests from people in homeless shelters or transitional housing home to fulfill. My grandkids picked out the gifts on Saturday, including toy trucks for a nine year old and a comforter for a 72 year old. It’s gratifying to have a concrete way to give to others.

“Deflated Christmas”

944D82C7-1A33-44C8-B715-E91F4B76458F.jpegIn our neighborhood we like outdoor Christmas decorations. These have followed different trends over the years. When we first moved here, the trend was for icicle streams of lights, lots of little lights that hung in strings off the gutters. We had left behind large glass bulbs in strings where if one went out the whole string went out. In my childhood this had produced gales of laughter as we exchanged bulbs one after another until we found the burnt out culprit.

Next the trend seemed to be some sort of bright light beam aimed at the house. This wasn’t very exciting and didn’t seem to catch on. The following year brought a host of deer made out of some kind of straw like material. The deer were posed in various ways and filled the front yards. However, they weren’t lit so they lacked appeal after dark.

Now came inflatable yard figures animated by a fan blowing to fill them. For some reason, presumably to save electricity, most of these are turned off in the day. This leaves the sight shown above. Here our neighbors have a Santa and a Grinch lying deflated on the ground. Since this is the trend for 2018, our area is littered with these forlorn decorations.

Tonight I will try to take a photo of an inflated display. Until then…

“Knee Bone Connected to the …”

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My left knee gets sore from time to time. Thirty years ago, when it first was aggravated, I saw a sports medicine doctor who prescribed very effective exercises. Of course, when it was better I stopped doing them. Periodically I would remember that there had been something that helped and I would find the old exercises.

Once I moved to Connecticut, I had elbow pain and went to see an orthopedic doctor. He unhelpfully suggested surgery to “see what is going on.” Instinctively, I knew this was not a route for me. I found an osteopathic sports medicine doctor who diagnosed poor sitting posture  causing the elbow pain. Sure enough, with new exercises my elbow recovered.

But osteopathy? What the heck? We had a neighbor who was an osteopath and my mother always said he was a quack, not a REAL doctor. But she was very misinformed as it turns out. Osteopaths go through full medical school training, internship and residency and are fully licensed to do all things medical. The main difference is that they look at the whole structure of the body instead of just one part.

While that first osteopath left to go teach at the medical school, I met another excellent one last month to examine my once again aching knee. This time he told me that my problem was really coming from my hip and prescribed a series of new exercises. They have allowed me to return to almost my full routine at the gym.

Of course I can’t stop humming that old song about Ezekiel and the bones.

“Pick a Tree–Any Tree”

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This afternoon my husband, two grandchildren and their babysitter drove into central Connecticut to cut down our Christmas tree. The little house above holds a wood stove, hot chocolate and friendly people to warm up with after trekking around outside in frigid weather looking for the perfect tree.

Now clearly with five people exploring acres of trees the task of settling on just one takes a while. Any pick had to be unanimously approved(whose idea was that? oh yeah-mine). Many were too tall or too wide to fit in the corner of our living rooms. Others were lopsided(according to a veto vote) or scraggly(in the eye of another veto vote) or crooked(my veto). The babysitter added the helpful tip that presents needed to fit under the tree, eliminating ones with boughs to the ground. Finally the cold won out and we all agreed that one tree was just fine. I headed for the warming hut while the others took turns with the saw(helpfully provided by the farm.) The place had a device to squish the tree into netting so it could go in or on the car. This year’s went on the car since the back of the van had passengers.

Many people we know have fake trees. They don’t call them fake of course since that is derogatory. But we lived in Oregon for many years and they were called fake, looked down on, and generally scorned and mocked. After all, we were The Evergreen State and needed to stay faithful. Fortunately our town picks up discarded real trees curbside after Epiphany Sunday and chips them into yard bark, available for residents to pick up for landscaping. So a farmer makes some money in the winter, we have the smell of a real tree, and the tree gets usefully recycled.

We will be back at “Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree Farm”(its real name) next December to repeat the search.

“Listen Up”

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As I mentioned when writing about Harry Potter, I often listen to books, especially fiction. This habit started when my daughter lived several hours away. I would listen to books on cassette tapes from the library on my long drive. But I still preferred to read books on paper. My next car didn’t have a cassette drive, so I took to listening to satellite radio instead. My book listening days were over I thought.

Years later I bought an IPod and learned to download music. The local library also offered a way to download books for free. Intrigued by the possibility, I tried it. I had always believed I read too quickly to be patient as a book was read to me, but I liked it more than I thought I would.

But the best feature of audio books turned out to be bedtime harmony. My husband goes to bed a couple of hours before me since he rises very early. I could read downstairs and miss his company, or I could spend two hours awake in the dark next to him. Neither was very appealing. But audio books saved my marriage(not really, but I like the sound of that as an advertisement.) Now we get into bed together, turn out the lights and he sleeps while I listen to my book. Now about his snoring!!

“Harry Potter Without Me”

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I was born long after the Harry Potter series, and my children were past the Harry Potter stage when the books came out. My older grandchild has read all seven books, totally a gizillion pages it seems. I was happily staying Harry Potter ignorant until we decided on a family vacation this February to Orlando, Florida where my daughter has a training. The kids are dying to go to Universal Studios Orlando, home of—you guessed it-The World of Harry Potter.

I could spend hours touring the Wizarding World, but I would have no idea of what the excitement meant. So I decided to break down and actually read the books for myself. Since I listen to many fiction texts instead of reading them in print, I downloaded the first volume last night and am a third of the way through it. While I doubt I will have the stamina to listen to probably 60 hours to get through the series, I thought I could at least start.

Reader, I married him. Not really, but I always wanted to use that line from “Jane Eyre.” What is true is that the book delights me, taking me back to the time I easily entered into the world of wizards, magic, flying and good and evil in combat. And I hope to be able to scream with joy when we visit Harry’s wizarding world.

“Make New Friends”

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Here the neighbor boy and I think about interacting over a pan. I am not sure if I have just removed it from him or if he is about to grab it from me. At any rate, it shows that all our lives making friends requires both give and take. An old camp song goes,”Make new friends, But keep the old, One is silver, But the other gold.” I have been reflecting on this lately.

We moved 3000 miles away from my circle of friends 17 years ago. But my closest friends are still those I made then. Fortunately we can talk for free now that long distance rates have plummeted. We can even see each others’ faces when we talk, though no one wants to look at the other early in the morning, so we don’t. Fortunately also, each friend has come out several times for long visits or trips together.

But while I remain committed to making new friends, in those 17 years I have managed to really connect with only two women. It turns out that making friends in one’s 60’s and now 70’s is a lot more complicated than just saying, “Let’s be friends.” I was encouraged yesterday by a long lunch with a new friend-to-be. It would be lovely to have a new friend. But it took at least ten years to really establish deep friendships in the past. So I hope that it is still possible. It’s worth the effort for sure.

“Public Shaming”

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The Puritans of New England found a way to publicly shame transgressors of their standards. They put people in the public square in this device seen above. Passersby could scold, berate or shame the offenders. I remember learning of this in school and being very grateful that this practice was extinct.

The other day at the gym I noticed a headline on a television about “fat shaming.” Because the mute was on, I have no idea what the story was about. However, it made me realize that in our internet obsessed, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram bathed culture we have managed to reinstitute public shaming. From the woman who took a picture of another woman in a locker room and posted it saying the woman was “disgustingly fat,” to the refusal of a waitress to serve a member of the White House press office, we have managed to use public shaming to wound others once more.

Shaming others seems to be a great way to feel superior. “At least I would never(fill in the blank) like that person. We have found ways to shame others for their looks, their opinions, their religious beliefs and their language. We can act as informants without even leaving home, by just snapping a picture and posting it. We can look at magazines at the checkout stands of the grocery store which take delight in shaming celebrities.

We can maintain that we are far removed from our Puritan forebears, but we delude ourselves. Shaming is cowardly, whether done in person or on line. Let’s call it out when we hear it. But let’s not shame the person who’s doing the shaming. How about simply “that isn’t very kind?”