Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Me, Too

Perhaps my favorite addition to my Christmas decor this year is the tin nativity I picked up during our Mexican mission trip this summer. I love it for so many reasons.

For one thing, it lives in its own little box, so there's no wrapping of individual lambs for storage and trying to figure out where the Baby Jesus may have disappeared to. It's easy to set up--just open, pop up the figures, and (as we said in junior high orchestra) viola.

Also, Joseph seems to be feeling the pressure of step-fathering the Divine because his forehead has receded thiiiiiis close to ear level. That doesn't bother me at all--I appreciate men who don't spend all their energy maintaining hairlines.

But my favorite part of this nativity lives in the menagerie that fills the foreground. Do you see what I see?

Yes! It's an elephant! And not just any elephant, this elephant practically has "Property of Barnum and Bailey" stamped on its trunk. See the circus trappings, the I've-got-my-foot-on-a-giant-beach-ball posture?

Please don't tell me that elephants were common forms of transportation for Wise Men From the East, or that all the shepherds had elephants back in those days. I don't want to be confused by facts.

What I want to believe is that this elephant recognized what was happening, and thought "Oh, this is so much better than the circus I live in. I have to go meet this Baby."

Because in my heart, that's what I believe, too.

Monday, December 21, 2015


The holiday season is a time to remember and honor loved ones in our lives, as we sit around and sip our wassail and complain about contemporary Christmas music. (What's wrong with the old carols? Answer me that.) This year I have a transition in my life that made me stop and dab at my watering eyes for a moment as I reached for another cup of wassail.

I have a new phone.

While I love my new phone (so shiny! so fast! so HUGE!) I need to pause and pay tribute to the phone it replaced, my good ol' iPhone 4. I loved that phone, which in 2010 I was sure was going to transform me into a veritable paragon of efficiency. It would organize my calendar and I would no longer double-book my work and personal schedules! It would keep all my contacts in the same place and I would no longer have to call Husband to get an address for one of the Boys! It would be such a fine camera that I would no longer have to carry around my trusty point-and-shoot so that I could document my food!

And for six years, it sort of did all of those things. I mean, it wasn't a miracle machine and sadly, double-booking seems to be my super power so it did not prevent this. But it was reliable, sync-ed with my iPad and work addresses, and was right there when I needed to shoot a picture (lunch, anyone?) so I was happy.

But then my trusty iPhone 4 looked around at all the new generations of phones, several of which had come and gone while I continued to use it, and it just pretty much gave up. Update to the latest operating system? Too complicated.  Sync with my Fitbit? Nope, can't do that either. How about playing some music? Sorry, but even that was beyond this phone's capabilities because all those sandwich pictures crowded off the music. 

So it was time to trade in the old model for a new one, and I do love the new version now that I'm getting used to bending my stubby thumbs around its enormous case. It's fast and shiny and has enough storage space that I can listen to music while I schedule a meeting with my boss at the exact same time I already have an appointment to have my teeth cleaned.

We made a lot of memories together, though, this old phone and I. It was the phone I was using when Boy#4 had his bike wreck two states away, and Boy#1 sent me text updates from the emergency room followed by photos of my wrecked baby's face. Shudder. It's the one that carried me though the whole transition to empty nesting, and kept in touch with my sons to reassure me life was fine--great, even--when the nest was full and would continue to be fine--great, even--when they weren't living at home.

Good-bye, old phone. I will miss you.

Hmmm. I believe this explains why I should never get a pet.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Christmas A Couple of Decades Ago

I'm at the point of Christmas preparations that leaves me with visions of sugarplums dancing in my head, along with visions of of still-unwritten Christmas letters, visions of the un-assembled Christmas presents to be distributed at the office party tomorrow, and visions of eight gallons of peppernuts still to bake.

I'm taking my mind off of those visions with this view of a Christmas that must have been ca. 1994. I carbon-date that by using the method of thinking "Hmmm...it looks like the Boys are maybe 3, 5, 7 and 9?" We are at my parents' house and Boy#4 (who looks to be three years old) is opening his gift from Grandma and Grandpa.

I am struck by several things: Boy#1's excitement, and his spiffy Santa sweatshirt. Boys#2 and #3 and their haircuts, which we paid actual U.S. dollars to have happen. Husband's head, which is in view between Two and Three, and has significantly more hair than it does today. My sweater, which as of this moment I am officially retiring from Snow Day Sweater status because holy cow, here is proof that it is at least 20 years old. Also, the fact that I ever thought white tights were a good idea.

And I am struck, again, by how much I miss my mom. At this point she was just a little older than the age I am now, and still beautiful and laughing and energetic and the smartest person I knew. She wouldn't be any of these things by now, but what a lovely memory to have today.

It's a Christmas memory to calm the stress and remind me how very, very blessed I am.

Happy Thursday, everyone.

Monday, December 14, 2015

I Do Not Like It. I Love It.

My emotions about decorating for Christmas are decidedly mixed.

I mean, I do enjoy having the tree up. But do I actually enjoy the decorating process? I do not.

I do not like plugging in the lights to find out that even though a permanent tree may never wear out, being made of plastic as it is, the lights do fail after a few years. And at that point, even with my magic LightKeeper Pro in hand, I will curse this plastic monstrosity because it WILL NOT LIGHT.

I do not like that even though Husband and I wrestled a gabillion boxes of decorations down from the attic and I only decorate one room, the angel I wanted to put in this spot right here apparently remained up there so I'll need to make another trip up and down before I'm finished.

I do not like trying to remember how this whirlygig fits together but that doesn't matter because the candles that create the updraft that makes it spin have melted during their summer under the roof in the attic.

But then I start to put the actual ornaments onto the tree. We have made a habit of buying an ornament during our vacations, and the Boys have continued that tradition by marking special events with ornaments. The queen shown above is a reminder of the summer Boy#1 spent studying in London, with the contemporary update of a string of lights slap-dashedly thrown across her front because I was DONE with figuring out where the lights were malfunctioning.

Or this chartreuse velvet bird? I picked it out as I wandered around a Christmas shop with Boy#1 and Lovely Girl on her very first visit to Small Town. Behind the bird is a purple-clad St. Nick, a gift from Boy#3 showing pride in the university he and I graduated from.

Out of frame are ornaments that were in a basket Husband and I received as a wedding gift from his parents' best friends, and ornaments the Boys made in their wonderful magnet school. A painted oxcart represents the biggest vacation we ever took and a chili pepper Santa reminds me of the restorative trip to Santa Fe the year we played upset-the-fruit-basket with our employment situations.

I love these reminders of milestones and good times.

I love that Husband has deciphered the mysteries of the automatic timer and now I come home from work in the dark to see the Christmas-y glow shining from the front windows. Even if it's 72 degrees (which it was, last week, and how do you people in Florida get any Christmas spirit whatsoever?) it seems like the loveliest moment of winter.

Each morning when I get up the glow of the tree lights my way down the stairs, and in those moments I forget that I ever did not like this decorating process.

Like childbirth and writing, for a Christmas tree the means are forgotten in view of the end.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

He Does Not Speak for Me

I had no intention of writing this post. This is not a political blog; my usual hope is that the deepest thought it provokes is "Yeah, I've worn shoes from two different pairs to work, too."

But Donald Trump's comments a few days ago about keeping all Muslims out of America are so appalling, so contrary to everything I believe as an American and a Christian and a human being, that I need to stand up and be counted. 

Donald Trump does not speak for me as an American.

I think about the episodes in our nation's history that have been the most shameful. Every one that I can name is related to treating a class of persons differently because they could be easily grouped by race or religion: the Japanese interned in World War II; the black Americans treated with easy cruelty before the 1960s; the Native Americans herded onto reservations. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that we are never proud of these actions in retrospect. Excluding Muslims from America because they are Muslims would be another chapter in this book of shame.

Donald Trump does not speak for me as a Christian. 

I have never been able to find any evidence that Jesus distanced himself from persons of any religion, or that he encouraged hate of any person because of beliefs. Instead, His instructions--His most important commandment--was that persons who follow Him should love God, love one another (other Christians), and love their neighbors (everyone else). Can you imagine how small the Christian kingdom would have been if Christ's great commandment had been "Yeah, probably better not have contact with anyone who's different from you, because who knows? It might be dangerous." 

Donald Trump does not speak for me as a human being. 

I am pained he is the leading presidential candidate for the political party in which I have been registered all of my voting years. This self-aggrandizing blowhard, whose horrible hair only distracts us from the dangerous ideas he spouts? From the pure hate he throws around so casually? 

As a human being and as an American and as a Christian I will continue to believe that love is always better than hate, that inclusion is always better than isolation, and that Christ would be appalled that the 83% of Americans who claim His name are letting the world think Donald Trump speaks for them. 

He does not speak for me.

Monday, December 7, 2015

We Have a Winner!

Finally! We have a winner in the Milestone Monday giveaway.

Now you may be saying to yourself, "My goodness, Self, MomQueenBee certainly makes everything more complicated than it needs to be, doesn't she? How hard is it to pick a winner of a contest that's been going on for (Self counts on fingers) three weeks now? Isn't it just a matter of counting the entries, then using a random number generator to come up with the winning number?"

Well. I always say if a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing in the most convoluted, time-consuming manner possible, ergo no random number generator for me. No, I copied out all of the names of the entrants, then I cut them apart with an Exacto knife using a Hickory Farms catalog as a cutting base, then I put all of the names into the Cauldron of Chance. From the Cauldron of Chance the world's most delightful videographer drew the winning name.

With a flourish!

(Okay, so that wasn't a flourish, it was must my inability to take a good picture even with my fancy new phone. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.)

And the winner is....

My friend Kim W.! I've hidden her last name with a seasonally appropriate sticker, but the delightful videographer can attest that we know what that name is.

So, Kim W., in a few short days weeks you will be wearing the variegated orange neck thingy I was knitting during our charmed vacation, assuming I can get the thingy finished in a few short days weeks. I guarantee it will be done in time for Christmas re-gifting.

Congratulations to our winner, thanks to our Cauldron of Chance chooser, and thank you to all who played along. Let's do this again some time!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Friday Orts and a Blurb

The Thanksgiving leftovers are pretty much gone (and food scientists everywhere say it's about time and that they hope I enjoy the salmonella I was inviting into my digestive system when I scarfed down that final spoonful of cranberry sauce last night) so we're back to a regular feature--orts and a blurb!

You might have noticed that in the gushing delight with which I described the Best Day of the Year in this space, I did not mention the weather. That's because the weather--unlike the pie, which was perfect--was terrible. Horrible. Really awful.

It poured all day, the kind of rain that makes you realize that maybe Seattle isn't where you want to live after all because rain is all sorts of wonderful if you can stay inside and read a good book but all sorts of hassle if you're trying to transport a full two-turkey dinner for 33 people across the street to where you will be eating that meal. And if that street is at the bottom of a hill and the intersection of two drainage streets, as the House on the Corner is, you will pretty much be stomping through the Erie Canal with that bowl of mashed potatoes.

Fortunately, there were lots of good-natured galoots who schlepped and carried and were pretty much soaked for the rest of the day. Believe it or not, they did not complain ONE WORD about the conditions.

I love my galoots.

The next day everything was ice-covered and I regretted my lack of photographic skills because the sweetgum tree off the deck was spectacularly beautiful but I couldn't document the combination of bright green, red, and yellow leaves encased in ice. I also regretted my lack of shoes as I took took the picture above because cold feet are not my favorite, even in the interest of art.

The BDotY was so wonderful that I completely forgot to gather a group that would draw out a winner in our 1,000th post drawing. So, bonus! You can still comment on that post or on my Facebook page before Sunday at noon and I'll add you to the drawing. (Remember, your choices are KNIT or NAP.)


And for the blurb: After Thanksgiving it is my practice to not cook anything for the remainder of the week. It's a sacrifice I make. At least that's what I tell Husband when he looks down at his plate of re-heated turkey and says "So you're not cooking again?" and I have to remind him that I cooked for three straight days and that averages out to daily cooking for about a month. 

In the spare time that results from not cooking on Friday or Saturday, I read and read. Then I read a little more and then I catch up on my reading. 

I happened to choose two books set in World War II France for my post-eating eye binge, and I am still mesmerized by All The Light We Cannot See. There is a reason this won a ton of awards, as did The Nightingale, which I also read last week. 

I highly recommend both books, and if you read them please let me know so we can commiserate about how glad we are that the Nazis did not win. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

We Do What's Expected

The only thing that makes a Thanksgiving dinner for 33 people run smoothly, or really, run at all, is that after this many years all of us know our roles.

My dad, for example, is in charge of ironing the tablecloths. He and M.A. always show up early enough that I can pull out the ironing board and the wrinkly used-once-a-year plaid cloths, then he irons while I take my shower and change out of my cooking-spattered chenille robe and into a more respectable splatter-palette outfit.

Of course, I'm splattered most of the day because I have been busy completing my role:

My role is to keep the dairy farmers in business and I take this job quite seriously. You would not even believe how many pounds of butter and cream cheese I use to prepare one meal. What you see was all used to whip up the Pioneer Woman's mashed potatoes. No, I am not kidding, and if I were being totally honest I'd also include the whipping cream and half-and-half in this photo. On the other hand, they were delicious even though my hand got tired of mashing early so they were incredibly lumpy. Lumpotatoes, but yumpotatoes. 

But the role all of us most enjoy filling was taken this year by Miss S, who had her first birthday a few months ago. Remember her from last year? When she wasn't at all sure she should be sitting with the crazy lady? 

Last year.
This year she was the official pie sampler. 

She's sitting on her grandma's lap (is my Much Younger Sister the most beautiful grandmother you've ever seen?) and clearly Miss S finds the pumpkin pie satisfactory. 

Take a note, Miss S. It wasn't too many years ago that all those galoots behind you had the pie-tasting job, and now look at them. They're too old and sophisticated to dig in with this kind of gusto, and they probably filled up on turkey which you were wise enough not to do, plus we might look askance if they started eating their pie with their hands.  

Enjoy that role while it's still cute or you might end up helping Grandpa B with the tablecloths.