Wednesday, December 30, 2009

the table

I sit at Christmas dinner on one end of an oval oak table, pulled out to full extension and crammed with 12 chairs and stools, each one loaded up with a person. Seven children are enjoying bubbly grape juice and red plastic plates at a table in the kitchen. One of them yells, "I spilled my juice, can I have more?" An adult, not particularly a parent, goes to do the refill.

A six pack of New Zealand champagne beer sits half empty on the table between candles and cranberry dressing from a can. Everyone is wearing a paper hat from their party popper. The fashion merchandiser and Polynesian mother of two are blowing on whistles retrieved from the same poppers. The young psychiatrist swings a small plastic bell that has remarkable twang. The African-American hairstylist laughs loudly as she is coaxed into extra gravy. A small bowling game is unfolding between two colorful plates. Everyone is full and contemplating seconds.

Everyone sighs with contentment as jokes bounce around the table. Puns abound. Not too much sarcasm. Darkness tries to force itself in through the windows but the candles and lights smash it to bits. I hear the kids whooping with laughter. There might be music on, but the real music is voices.

It strikes me that this is the very table I used to set when Rachel was a little girl and we lived in western Canada. Of course she does things a little different than I did, but there is strong continuity. I have passed on generosity, hospitality and joy of life to my girl. I also passed the table and chairs. It's all part of the package.

I am drawn as if into a vision and I see a multitude of faces that have been seated around this singular board. Laughter, tears, spills, tales, prayers and plain good food shared back and forth. I see soft old hands resting on the curved edges, chairs tipped back to give room for belly laughs, feet shuffling back from the table with utter contentment. All the weary cleanup.

Sitting at that old table is one of my best Christmas moments - backing out of the immediate moment and glimpsing what time and the Spirit has given to me, to us, and to our world.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Fly

We arrived home and among other things, found that we have a 'Christmas fly.' Now - you all know the legend of the Christmas fly, don't you? and why it brings good luck to a home to have a fly on Christmas day?

Well, the legend comes from a tribe of Canadian first nations people called the Shaganappi. It is tied to the bible story of Jesus welcoming the children to come to him, the least of all 'these', as is, well, the fly.

Legend has it that at the birth of Jesus a lowly fly circled the manger wanting to see what had happened. The shepherds swatted the fly away, but Mary said, "No! Let the little fly come unto him." And the fly landed on the hand of baby Jesus, and he smiled.

OK. Not really. Actually Canadians say, "Look at that there miserable old fly trying to escape the frozen tundra (a Canadian word, tundra). No way he is living in here all winter, eh?" ('eh' turns the sentence into a question in case you didn't know that.)

That said, we crush it with a newspaper.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Fleece Navidad and Mary Christmas

I have had such a good Christmas. I told Steve this was a 'rich' Christmas - they aren't all going to be that way - so we need to suck the juices when all is well. The Girls are at an age that is still sweet and yet saucy enough to be interesting. Steve bought me a few VERY thoughtful gifts - we sometimes buy almost nothing... and I felt he had paid attention to who I am. There were many moments of gentle peacefulness.

And I had the flu. (Or maybe it was food poisoning - I keep vacillating - I ate a hot dog with onions from an open kind of container on the way to Rae's.) I didn't know it was the flu and only today I said to myself, "Dang Gena, I gots the flu!" Any time I ate I experienced terrible pain in my stomach. 36 hours of the worst headache I've had in a decade... like someone was shoving fondue forks into my brain while termites chewed on my eyeballs. Piercing, blinding pain. And vertigo - could hardly walk upright - kind of like what it would feel like to be wearing someone else's bi-focals while you walked up and down stairs. Wild dreams at night - hot flashes (which I put down to normal temp changes) and so on. Today I am feeling more like a normal person who has a seriously bad flu and is recovering - a low level headache, needing to lay down, can't eat without it hurting.

I did not let the flu rob me of fun. I just sandwiched everything between naps.After a nap, Rae and I ate at Queen of Sheba, the Ethiopian restaurant - which had the large joyous sign, "MARY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!" I kind of liked that. The chef is a great woman friend of Rae's - she loved cooking for us. Then I went back to bed. We opened pj's Christmas eve after a good service and ended the night with a Polish feast - the polish sausage and perogies and cabbage rolls punished me all night. We had 19 for dinner on Christmas day and there was no shortage of laughter and kibitsing around the table. We walked in 52 degrees rain and smiled at the natives. In all this fun I forgot my camera.

It was a fabulous Christmas. Rae and Curtis went to see Sherlock Holmes today and the verdict is that the movie is great. So I still have that to look forward to. And the start of the new year. And a few mornings at home to sleep in and lay about to prepare for 2010! What a great end to a good year.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

wedding tales

Heard the best story today. My friend's son got married a couple weeks back and there were some factors at play:

- the bride's mother controlled everything to the last detail
- the groom's grandmother sat in the corner and cried because her marriage was over to the grampa
- weirdness was everywhere

So my friend's family shuffled the deck of cards (literally) and set up a 'murder' game that commenced when the bride came down the isle. By the rules of the game if the covert murderer winks at a person they must declare to whomever they are with, "I'm dead."

The game lasted til the reception and was a hoot - a private undercurrent for the groom's family. The bride and groom were not privy to the game.

When my friend was dancing with her son, the killer (who turned out to be the groom's father) winked at her and she had to say to her son, "I'm dead." His reply is priceless, and a bit confused. "That's funny mom - you're not the only one." Apparently others had 'died' in his arms.

That is the kind of family I could love to be part of.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

gift giving, again

On Saturday I found the perfect gift for Steve. I know it is perfect because he has said, over and over, 'All I want you to get me is a new pair of rubber boots.'

Now that is easier said than done. I finally found a pair at the tractor/farm store in Nicholasville, for $19.99. Wanting to revel, I texted a message to my daughter saying, 'I got dad the rubber boots! Whooee!' Now I am ashamed to say I was texting while I was driving, or rather, at stops, so in my confusion and not paying total attention, I accidentally sent the text to Steve, instead of Rachel.

Steve came home from work and said, 'I got your text. You didn't mean to send it to me, did you?' Well, I feigned a fit and yelled at him, 'You spoiled your present! It's all your fault! You shouldn't have read it!'

That behind me, I decided to wrap each boot separately (I will add a picture tonight) and wrap them exactly like, well, boots, not like a box. So there on the table sat two rubber boots, wrapped individually and looking exactly like, well, rubber boots.

This became a great laughing game. I told Steve I had bought him TWO, not one, presents, obviously, and I expect him to buy me TWO, not the one we had agreed upon. I will put both presents under the tree and he will be obliged to open them, each, alone, at a separate time, expressing adequate enthusiasm for each. After all, if he didn't get both presents, what a loss that would be!

The '2009 rubber boot fiasco' as it is now affectionately called, will live on to infamy in the annals of family history.

I heard another couple's story of creative gift giving this week. Every Christmas Anne and Bill quietly choose three or four or five things from their partner's possessions, items they had previously given as a gift on a special occasion, and wrap them to be re-opened again this Christmas. Not only does this increase the gifts under the tree without adding cost, but it gives the gift a chance to be remembered, the occasion recalled and honored and the love of the first gifting, given again.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


My sweet Big Steve thought my last blog was scandalous. Ahhh. I must have succeeded.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


The weather in my home city is frigid - frosty - frozen - blizzarding etc. The very same storm front has arrived here in my town in Kentucky and it is dark and cold and rainy.

I was thinking today how the same weather system can present itself differently in various lives. Depending on other factors, a loss or defeat might be crushing or fairly easy to move on from.

A serious goal of mine is to make choices that intentionally move me toward gentleness in my responses and reactions. Using the weather analogy, I want to be a kind of person whose presence decreases the possibility of a storm showing up at it's worst.

But my blizzard today is inside my head in the form of migraine pain. I pace around trying to find a place or space to relieve it. There is something to learn from that as well...

I was looking for a headache image and found this - just had to add it because today is such a blue day ...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

the company party

On Friday evening I was part of the Asbury International Community Christmas party. The room was filled with kids and parents and smiles ... almost everyone of international flavor, and lots of excitement. Our MC, Stanley, is great - drawing the kids in and getting them all calling back to him. Different groups perform music - the Koreans, Indians and Indonesians. My personal favorite is a group of little Korean kids holding candles and wearing reindeer antlers, doing a choreographed song/ dance. I think they are going to set themselves on fire a couple times... a bit breathless, but remarkable and charming.

Then gifts! Members of the seminary community have participated - choosing one child and providing a wrapped gift according to what the parents or child has suggested. Because of this generosity, every international kid - from babies right up to teens - receives a gift, something appropriate and possibly desired (we hope.) Volunteers in Santa hats with candy canes call out names and the eager child runs up to receive a box, many of them large, wrapped in bright colors. The whole affair is grin making. (The juxtaposition of symbols was amusing.)

As I sit and watch the gift giving, a flood of childhood memories washes over me. In this season my father works at Dofasco Steel Mills. We are a large lower income family who don't do all that well at celebrating and our Christmas gifts are scant, for the most part. But there comes an interruption in our plodding days when the company holds its annual Christmas event. This is what I remember:

A huge room, kind of like a warehouse, with tables covered in white paper. Some plastic Christmas plants. I think there may have been food.
A man with a microphone talks too loud, and tries to get everyone excited. Kids are yelling. I wish he would stop talking so Santa could come.
Carols are sung ... no, not carols - songs about Frosty and Santa and Jingling Bells. I don't sing. I just sit, anxious. Waiting.
Then the loud ho ho ho of Santa - I know it isn't a real Santa, but I know he brings the gifts and that is what interests me.


Ages are called - and kids line up. Hoards of kids.
"Five year old girls." Every one is getting the same gift. Wrapped. I watch the pile go down as I stand in line hoping there will be one for me. I am very excited. And afraid.
... of note, every gift is BIG. Someone knows kids. There is none of the "treasures in small packages" nonsense.
The gifts are Big. Big dolls. Big trucks. Big paint sets.
My gift is big. I carry it back to the table where my mother sits.

These are the biggest and brightest gifts I will ever get at Christmas. I LOVE IT.

I don't really remember what any of them were. I think what I loved was the hullabuloo - the possibility of what was in that big box. Carrying it back to the table in my possession.

And last night at the International Christmas party I remembered those parties for the first time in decades, and I smiled. Something about gifts. We can frown all we want on the ideas of commercialism and excess. But a gift is a great thing. A truly great thing.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

love in strange forms

I had this happen twice in the last week, so I thought I would write about it. It is about giving and receiving words of love.

I hugged someone, and said, "I love you." And the reply was, "Decidedly."

I met a friend and felt warmth and said, "I really love you." The reply was, "Likewise."

A big fat laugh is burbling up in me about this. It feels enormously funny. And I think both replies were, actually, declarations of love.

Anything like this happen to other people?