Monday, December 16, 2019

Christmas in Berlin

We once observed Christmas being celebrated in Berlin, but in reality, we were in Barcelona, and it was early October. 

On vacation,  we walked past an empty retail space in the morning.  By evening, it had morphed into the Berlin Cafe, with new red awnings. Just inside the big front window, young lovers sat at a table for two. Patrons filled the interior. 

Colored Christmas lights surrounding the windows.   Cables attached to men with cameras and big lights fed into a truck full of technical equipment. Food was served--but it was a portable table on the sidewalk, for the film crew and actors. It only took a few moments for us to recognize artifice. 

We joined the crowd lingering behind the film-makers outside of the cafe and watched.

The couple leaned in for a kiss, and drew back. But they didn't gaze into each other's eyes. Instead, the actress rolled her head to relax her neck. And the leading man leaned back and pursed his lips to release a big breath. An unseen director must have called for another take, about ten in all. Of course, it would be edited eventually, but in the making, romance was transformed into tedium. 

It was hoopla without substance.

That can happen to us at Christmas time. 

I love putting up the tree, and playing carols, and choosing gifts for my family. But that's all red-awnings, and I can let myself become the director trying to get the scene, and timing, and gifting "right." (You know how it is choosing gifts, this year may be a "take two" for the umpteenth time.) 

But I really don't want Christmas in Berlin. 

So I stop and review the gospel accounts of Jesus' birth. Ultimately, I want my faith to be refreshed as I celebrate the baby who grew to prove Himself the Savior of the world. 

My prayer for you is that you enjoy both the temporal, and the eternal aspects of this wonderful season.

Merry Christmas! 

Saturday, November 23, 2019

2019's Top 19 Reasons to be Thankful

Even though there is snow on the ground, and the magnificent five-story pine across the golf course is naturally flocked, next week is Thanksgiving, not Christmas. 

Since nobody reads the President's Thanksgiving Proclamation*, here are my top nineteen reasons to be thankful in 2019.

1.  We're well. 

Liam "seeks" Willow who thinks she is hidden.

2.  Willow, 2, is talks and makes us laugh. 

3.  Bo, 6, can read well for a first-grader, and his vision is not currently deteriorating.

4.  Sam, 15, has turned into a wonderful cook. He recently grilled delectable  moist chicken and performed magic with cherry tomatoes. He's also an interesting dinner companion.

5.  Liam, 11, has a knack for writing. The fifth-grade class is participating in NaNoWriMo, a month of writing a novel in one month. 

6.  Keeler, 13, is a math whiz, and we're not worried he will get into any kind of trouble until he tries to learn to drive.

7. Em, 12 going on 14, is tall, lovely, responsible. We've nicknamed her Em-I-A, as in Em missing in action. We hope she'll take a break from her social life soon so we can talk to her, preferably before the end of the year. 

8. This condo is FLOODED with morning light. Bill needs to wear a baseball cap to keep the sun out of his eyes. 

9.  The kitchen counters are installed, three months after being ordered. (And I am thankful that I stayed patient--until two weeks ago.)

10. I'm finding solid, encouraging relationships at our merged church.

11.  I have a fiddling friend. We practice Christmas carols and twin fiddle tunes.

12. Bill and I took three road trips this year (all involved bluegrass music): Dallas,Westcliffe, Colorado, and North Carolina.

13. In October I rejoined the bluegrass jam I used to attend in Mt. Airy. I've improved since my last time with them. Now I can play chords, thanks to my weekly as yet-to-be-named geezer group of musicians. 

14. We have been blessed with generous friends.
         One installed the new cabinets for us. 
         Another couple let us stay in their river house for a week this fall,
Dan River, Kibler Valley, Va.
now our favorite place since we sold Newsong Cottage. 
             Others hosted us during the trip east.

 15.  Bill and I shared a delicious dinner at Harvest Table, Barbara Kingsolver's restaurant in Meadowview, Va. It was on my must-do list. I wish it was down the street from our condo.

16.  I turned an emotional corner, and accept that I will probably live in Colorado the rest of my life. I continue to look back over my shoulder to all I left behind, but acceptance is better than anger. 

17.  Bill and I continue to compensate for each other's crumbling mental acuity, and laugh about it. For example, thawed soup was actually spaghetti sauce which we didn't realize until we put it in the bowls. Had to cook some pasta.

18.  Last night my local book club chuckled over Wally Lamb's Wishin' and Hopin'. Even those of us who did not attend Catholic schools laughed at the familiar kid-antics and power struggles. 
      It's the funniest Nativity play since The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
      ( I'm sending a copy to both Dobson book clubs. Pass it around.) 

19. We will spend Thanksgiving with a family from Iraq.  I am thankful they don't still live in Baghdad.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. 

*  Except for Christian Science churches which read the President's Proclamation at their Thanksgiving Services.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Isa (Jesus) and Diyaa Dance for their Brides

(If you only have a black box, and no video, here is a link.)

I’ve never attended a Middle Eastern wedding so I was honored that my friend invited me to celebrate her brother's wedding. We put our heads together to watch postage-stamp videos taken by phone and zipped over thousands of miles in seconds. 

In the narrow space between the walled property of their family home and the neighbor’s, a three-piece band of trumpet and two drums blasted a traditional Iraqi wedding tune. She says the instruments are common between Muslim and Christian weddings there, although the tunes vary. 

The thoroughly modern bridegroom wore a fashionable business suit with a white shirt and bright red tie and matching pocket-handkerchief. His groomsmen, also in suits, waited to join in the dancing. They took turns dancing, raising their hands overhead and clapping as they swooped and side-stepped toward the waiting car.  At one point the groom and his friend clasped hands, arms held out like a T, and danced back and forth.

In the background, women in the family let loose the high, happy wailing sound called ululations. It was a two note-trill like a vocal eruption that added to the celebration.

The groom looked back over his shoulder at them and smiled. His white teeth gleamed between his mustache and the neat small beard.

When the men reached the waiting car, they waved good-bye and drove to the bride’s home. She waited there for him to make good his promise and make his vows. 

Congratulations to Diyaa and Fatima. I pray God will bless your marriage and that you’ll have beautiful children. 

The scene lingered in my memory like a delicious flavor lingers on the tongue. A couple of days later I connected the contemporary example with what I’d read of marriage customs in the Bible.

Isaiah the prophet foretold that the anointed one would clothe his followers with garments of his righteousness, as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Jesus told parables about weddings. Like Fatima, the bride waits for the bridegroom to come for her. Jesus referred to his bride, the church.

I can imagine Jesus in the heavenly wings. He's as eager as I am, passionate, and joyous because He cherishes me as a groom does his bride. (Isaiah 62:5)

Does Jesus dance while He waits for the hour to come for me? Oh, what a wonderful picture. I look forward to that not-soon-enough day. 
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
  and his Bride has made herself ready;
And the angel said[a] to me, 
“Write this: Blessed are those who are invited
 to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” 
      And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” 
Revelations 19:7,9

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Antonio on Your Corner

How do you respond to the folks standing on corners with their sad signs? 

This week I had a short piece of writing published online, my experience of responding to beggars in Spain. (Read it from the link, if you haven't already.) Many of the readers left me comments.

One friend shared that a homeless person advised she’d do more good handing out snacks than to give the person money. 

Another said their church assembled homeless care packages. She keeps several in her car to hand out the window when someone approaches her at a red light. That’s a great idea, one I keep meaning to do. 

You have encouraged me that it is time to dump my good intentions and act. Here are some suggestions for care bags.

Crackers with peanut butter or cheese
Deodorant (Old Spice Fiji scent works for men or women)
Hand written note
Good book
List of free resources in your area for addictions and veterans

I think I'll involve my grandkids, too. This needs to be a habit of mercy. 

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Almost Home

I think we're here--the last stop before assisted living. (May it be many healthy years from now.)

After a six-month delay in buying the condo, I hit the phase-one remodel plan with a vengeance. We refloored to be ready for the cabinets. (Good riddance disgusting carpeting.)

While waiting,  I added my personal touch, paint, to the 1960’s bathrooms. It lifts my spirits to open a door and NOT see white (except for the retro four-inch square tiles on the walls.) 

I turned ugly brown sliding doors into faux barn doors. 

The bedroom has a kitschy wall-papered mural resembling a fifty-year-old movie set from southern California. Bill liked it but I didn’t, so we asked all visitors to weigh in on it. One craftsman pointed out that it tricked the eye to look beyond the wall toward an imaginary distant horizon. His brother could paint it into something really striking, he claimed. But his brother wasn’t in the budget.

However, that comment ignited my imagination like a match to a sparkler. I poured out my thwarted gardening desires and “planted” some of my favorite flowers in the mural. I'm pleased. More importantly, I enjoyed doing it. For now, it’s a keeper.

    My dad would be glad to see that my college art class got put to use. 

The cabinets I chose eight months ago were hung last week. Which meant I could unpack again.

Twice in the last three years I packed away our kitchen and art and home library. Both times I gave away bits of my history. 

Conversely, I’ve had fun unpacking happy memories—a teapot I bought at an open-air market in Turkey, the china tea strainer I bought in a small village in France half a life ago. 

Having my “stuff” in the cupboards makes me feel like I’m almost home, and I have desperately missed that sense of refuge. I grieved the loss of our perfect little place in North Carolina. While I don't embrace living in Colorado, I acquiesce to it.

Moving to the larger, sunny condo has helped.  As have the changes to reflect my personality and taste instead of the former condo’s perfect, but sterile, remodel.

The project is like a sliding puzzle with one empty hole. It's impossible to move the second piece until you move the first. 

Once the kitchen is complete we'll have room for new bookcases. Once those are filled I can rehang familiar art in new configurations.   

And when we get a bed for the study, you must come visit. Help us fill the space with conversation and laughter. 

Then it will feel like home. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

I Confess I'm a Shape-Shifter

I’ve been a shape-shifter the last few years. Not the woman to selkie kind, where a seal-like creature becomes a woman, or vice versa.

No, my body's shape is shifting, creating new curves in unattractive places. 

This forced me to get rid of all of my “ultra low rise” jeans which are described as “best for short bodies” but never were, and my medium rise, “best for curvy bodies.” 

I’m still waiting for jeans that will have a sturdy elastic camisole attached to the hips. Then I'll be flat-tummied and can wear tops that don’t look like maternity wear. (And my boobs will move back up where they used to be.)

My daughter swore by Spanx. Putting them on was not a solo operation. I pulled in front, Bill pulled from the back. Yeah, they squeezed extra flab into less space. In science teacher terms, my density was unchanged but my volume was reduced. But what do you do after you go to the bathroom and your second person isn’t around?

They went directly from the house to ARC. 

Shapermint online ad

I considered the Shapermint collection. The promotions showed up as pop-up video on youtube. What about my web browsing created "cookies" that popped up these ads? More than once? 

The commercials were impressive. Flabberghasting, actually. (That is a pun.) They've recently changed their campaign to be less graphic and more respectful. Some of the women have considerably more fat to hide than I do. But I didn't buy anything. It would be like standing in the Nordstrom Rack dressing room entrance and yelling "I'm Pam, and my belly is out of control."

So I’m still left with loose knit tops young pregnant woman won't wear. 

However, breezing through Target today I spied with my roving eye a belly band. It is called an “Afterband” as in after childbirth. Well, it is after my last child’s birth forty years ago. It was on sale for $7.50. I couldn’t pass it up. 

At home, I pulled it out of the package and the circumference of the M/L size band looked much too small to get around my middle. The band came with special instructions very similar to those for my foot-to-crotch, post-vein surgery compression stockings. You turn the band inside out, settle it on your hips, grab the top, which is at the bottom, and pull it up. Easier than Spanx. I could do it by myself. 

I tried it under a summer dress yesterday, but after 30 minutes decided I really didn't need to impress the doctor that much. Maybe it'll loosen some if I stretch it over the back of a chair. 

Sigh. I'm still shape-shifted.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Bluegrass Music in the Dry Grass - High Mountain Hay Fever Festival

At the beginning of the month our quest for bluegrass music took us south and west into a barely-inhabited part of Colorado for the High Mountain Hay Fever Bluegrass Festival.

The site of the festival was Westcliffe, a charming small town (population 568) with a short downtown about five blocks long.  There were hollyhocks growing on the street corners, and hanging flower pots. The music pulled in four thousand people so lines were too long for the restaurants, but food trucks provided wood-fire cooked pizza, some junk stuff, and good barbecue, even “North Carolina style sauce” (but no red slaw.)  

Apparently people retire here and bring their passions—music, theater, art, food, and horses. One of the local musicians said they have so much expertise in the city “you should be able to get college credit for hanging out with them.”

A narrow valley away, the Sangre de Cristo mountains run northwest to southeast.  Our vacation rental house, which I will never reveal to you because it was too wonderful and I don’t want lots of people to know about it, sat high on a ridge, mountains as far as I could look to the left and to the right. 

It was the most remote place I’ve been in Colorado since I don’t hike or backpack. 

We didn’t see any wildlife except hummingbirds, but the owner shared a story about a bear falling into the basement window well, which was why it didn’t have a screen on it. And video footage of the driveway showed recently passing mountain lion and bear. In the middle of the first night something big bumped into the side of the house. Spooky. 

The afternoon thunderstorm clouds gave way to clear skies by evening. I tracked the moonset (2:30am) and got up early in order to see the stars. As I  regularly complain, we don’t have but four to seven visible stars in the city. I keep praying for a power outage on a clear night with no moon so I can get a good look at the heavens.

We barely wanted to leave to hear the music.  

Colorado is really into “innovative” “hybrid” “genre-blending” bluegrass. This spring we heard a group described as bluegrass, that had a fantastic fiddler who added jazz and klezmer. It was exhilarating and creative, but stepped way beyond bluegrass boundaries. 

Bluegrass music which grew out of Appalachia includes church-influenced lyrics, which Colorado bluegrass does not. Their version of “gospel” music leans decidedly to new age. It’s a lot of “mama died and I’ll see her someday” or sad stories of somebody derailing their life and needing the gospel but never hearing it. 

This festival had “West Grass” and “Latin Grass” and, we were glad to find, lots of traditional bluegrass. It also had a solid representation of true “good news” gospel music.

See the trees? Waaay out there?

The stage and audience areas are set under a huge circus tent to block out the sun (there are few trees in Westcliffe) and the sides rolled down when the afternoon thunderstorms blew through. When the sides were up we had a great view of the nearby mountains. 

I’ve already given the property owner our dates for a whole week next year. High Mountain Hay Fever Bluegrass Festival is our new western favorite.