Monday, December 28, 2009

A House on a Hill

I was strolling down the sidewalk of an unassuming, unimpressive neighborhood with my sister beside me. As we approached a bridge, I was very busy adjusting my stride so I would not step on the unevenly-spaced cracks in the pavement. For no apparent reason, I glanced up and I felt a sharp intake of air and then "oh wow" escaped my lips.

Before me the world became brighter with just the introduction of a solitary house. The home had been built above a little stream, which flowed under the bridge I was now crossing. Little red posts supported the house in places where the ground sloped down towards the brook. The entire house was sky blue, but the porch and corner panels of the walls and roof had been painted red. The window panes of both the first and the second floors were white. This gave me the delightful impression that this house was in reality a picture from a child's coloring book. A childlike magic, like that during Christmastime, permeated the atmosphere. The house was, after all, still decorated for the holiday season. Small wreaths peered out from behind the attic and first floor windows. Green garlands and red ribbons with matching bows were wrapped around the porch railing, and cascaded down the steps. In the front yard lay a quaint manger scene with Joseph and Mary gazing tenderly at their newborn baby.

Compared to all this splendor, other houses seemed to pale. The house we had passed prior to this holiday home, had eggshell walls and an ecru roof. As I reluctantly continued down the sidewalk, a dry, icy wind blew in my face, and I felt tears come to my eyes' rescue. Out of the corner of my glassy eye, I espied a showcase window on the other side of the blue and red house. Rounding the bend, I saw something that dazzled and delighted my senses. There, in the window case, was a leg lamp, as clear as day. This was just icing on the cake. Anyone who has watched A Christmas Story and remembers the infamous leg lamp, must be grinning, as I was when I came across it. That silly smile was plastered on my face for three blocks at least. One house had brightened my day.

For those of you who have not seen A Christmas Story. Here is a replica of the leg lamp.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Never Enough Time in the Day

I sat in my parked car, looking at the little blue sticker in the left corner. I shook my head when I thought about how I had waited until that little sucker had been expired two months. At the time, I had told myself I would re-register the car when I found the time, but everything had seemed more important. As I was stepping out of the car, my sweater button snagged on the door handle. Barely attached by a string, the button hung on for dear life. I must sew that back on some time. You know what they say: "A stitch in time, saves nine". I shuffled into the house, scraping my shoes on the doormat, as I do. Dry leaves were scattered not only on the doormat, but also on the rest of the living room floor. My, the floor was looking messy. But I cannot vacuum today, I told myself, I always clean the floors on Sunday.

As I entered my room, I tossed my sweater and purse into my closet, right onto my hamper, which was full of clean clothes. Jessica had done the laundry a few days ago, how nice of her! I shoved the book I had been reading off of my bed, and then turned on the computer, from habit. Holiday cards lay sprawled out on the desk, some of them with writing in them. Having waited too late, I had not sent the cards to friends and family in time for Christmas. Now they retired above my drawers, useless. My eyes traveled to the pile of gifts I had received for Christmas. Pressed underneath a magic scarf and a beaded coin purse, was an art pad that had drawing tips. A few charcoal pencils lay beside the sketch pad, ready for use. I loved to draw, when I had the time. Maybe that would be nice for a day when I have nothing else to do.

I jumped on top of my bed and pulled the computer onto my lap. All I needed to check online was my Facebook page and my email. Oh, were my friends online? I had not talked to them in ages! After chatting with several chums for a while, they all left on various missions that led them away from the computer. My fingers hovered over the keys, not knowing what to do next. Now I was really bored. What was there to do? I opted for Zoo World, for after all, everyone deserves some down time every once in a while. I reorganized all the animals and attractions on the zoo map, and then realized what time it was. Way too late to stay up if I wanted to get anything accomplished tomorrow. Soon, I lay in bed, gazing at the ceiling. I had not made the best use of my time today. Well, I consoled myself, tomorrow is another day, and I am going to only do productive things.

The alarm clock belted out a gospel tune, and I clapped my hand over the snooze button.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Twelve Drummers Drumming

As I walk beside the beach, I see a dog jogging alongside an old man and his son. How nice, I thought, someone who actually trusts their dog enough to let him run free. When the pair slow to a walk and turn towards the road, the dog does not follow. The humans do not even look back. The dog is already looking for the next thing to play with. I near the strawberry-blond dog and discover that he has no collar. He sniffs a dying snail with innocent curiosity. I invite him to come closer, feeling an odd bond toward a fellow creature who bounds from one adventure to another. He is perfect, because he is friendly and allows me to pet him, and because he is just small enough to live in the house, and just large enough that he does not belong to the yapping toy breeds. When other masters and pets come by to play, the strawberry-blond dog and I let them assume that we go together. It is nice for a while, but then I am obliged to ask passers-by if they know my new best friend. No one does. By this time, I realize I have to return to reality. To my home, where my grandparents' dog would not allow a roommate, if only a temporary one. Leaving the loving dog at the beach was probably harder for me than it was for him. As I walk away gloomily, I glance back at the dog. He has already found a new squirrel to chase.

When I encounter a squirrel, a few weeks later, I resist the urge to scare it back up into the high branches of the gray tree.--But only just. If you have never heard the sound a squirrel makes before, it is a very queer sound indeed. My first thought when I hear it is that it must be a bird with a sore throat. My ears strain to pick up the noise again. Then I observe that it sounds more like a bark. Yes, a strange combination of a raspy chirp and a bark, albeit a very high bark, like our friends the toy dogs. I am not sure that the sound actually comes from a squirrel. My doubts are dispelled when a squirrel comes scampering around the trunk of the tree, eyeballing me with his beady, little, black eyes. He grinds his teeth while never taking his gaze from me, and then emits that wild cry once again. His companion, who is hanging onto the side of a neighboring tree, answers back, warily. The squirrel on my tree takes one more look at me, and then scuffles right up to the top branches.

At this moment, my grandparents' dog decides to scratch at the back door. The spell is broken, and it is time for me to walk back inside the house. The large German Shepherd greets me by running around my legs, and when I almost trip over her, she gets so excited she jumps onto me. Lady's nails are long, and as she slides down my legs, I can feel the scratch through the jeans onto my skin. I shoo her out of the kitchen. Lady does not mind; she just moves onto her next target: Tiger, the Maine Coon cat. I am inclined to pity the poor thing, but then I recall how remarkably alike our Tiger is to Garfield. Just as Garfield will pick a fight with Odie, for just being a dog, so also I have seen Tiger blatantly goad Lady, just for a bit of fun.

At least Lady is only playing with Tiger, instead of fighting with Freckles, my great-grandparents' dog. Freckles and his owners no longer stay with my grandparents. There would be a tussle almost every time they saw each other. Now Freckles and my great-grandparents live in the house they re-built after Hurricane Ike. On my way to visit them, I see a flock of birds fly overhead. The dark birds fly in a group, twisting and turning with the wind. They instantly remind me of certain schools of fish that swim in unison and appear to all be connected to one mind.

A few minutes down the road, I see a nasty little creature that I recognize instantly, despite my unfamiliarity with this kind of animal. It was an opossum. There was no mistaking its white face and rat-like tail. In my opinion, the opossum must be the ugliest creature on earth. For reasons unknown to me, whenever I see an opossum, I think of the R.O.U.S.'s, the Rodents Of Unusual Size, from The Princess Bride. The R.O.U.S.'s are brown and are very large, but their snout is like an opossum's, and I think they might have a similar tail too.

When I finally reach my great-grandparents' house, I find that poor Freckles is not in the best of health. The fur around his neck has all been itched off. Apparently, Freckles is suffering from an allergy, but has improved a lot this week. After a little while, my dad's cousins come over to call. It has been a long time since I have seen them last. Since I've been gone, they got a cute Chihuahua named Holly, and showed me the most adorable pictures of her. One of which shows Holly peeking out from under the bed. "Awww", the sound is out before I can check it. Lying beside me, Freckles sits up and tilts his head to one side.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my True Love gave to me twelve curious creatures, eleven o'clock rendezvous, ten sunlit minutes, nine neighborhood noises, eight perfect presents, seven souls a-singing, six sweet surprises, five Christmas treats, four different books, three great dames, two hands two thumbs, and a volunteer named Mary.

Eleven Pipers Piping

The bags under our eyes had begun to show before the party even started. My grandmother had been planning and cooking all day to prepare for the guests, her relatives. My sister had worked an 8-hour shift on a day she usually gets off, so she could be at home to visit with the family. I had personally re-created forty little chocolate-covered cherry mice. My grandfather had dragged in soggy logs and had managed to breathe life into our Texan fireplace. Then the Christmas Eve party began.

After singing stanza after stanza of joy-filled carols with our extended family, we ate delectable turkey leg meat, plus many other savory sides. When we finally convinced our stomach that there was room for one more dessert, we gorged ourselves with pie and ice cream. Once we said goodbye to all of our loved once, my grandmother, sister and I began to clean up the kitchen. We did not get very far. My grandfather could not wait to open the presents. He herded us out of the kitchen and into the den, and prodded us to open our gifts. We all oohed and awed at each other's goodies, cheering the loudest when a small token of love was greeted with an exclamation of delight. After each box had been opened and every stone overturned, it was my sister who first noticed an absence.

"It will be 7 o' clock in the morning for them in an hour." She stated blankly, and yet, it was a request. Our siblings and parents would be waking up in Africa on Christmas morning in just one hour.

We decided to attempt to meet our family on the internet when it was 11PM for us. We turned on our laptop and discovered that they were, indeed, on their computer. Hooray! One by one, and in front of the webcam, our siblings opened the presents my sister and I had mailed many weeks ago. We laughed when our siblings bestowed upon us such predictable reactions, such as, "What the heck is that?" Nevertheless, most of the gifts were warmly welcomed. Intermittently, I received text messages from a good friend of mine, and glanced up, grinning, when I heard my family notice my texting thumbs. Gifts from my grandparents to my family in Africa were then unwrapped and received the due praises. All the while my grandparents sat behind me, smiling and nodding at the computer screen. As my father enthused over how much fun my little brother would have with his new robot-building tool box, I took a private inventory.

Party with caroling relatives: Check. Presents: Check. Loved ones, far and near: Check. Yes, this definitely felt like Christmas.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me eleven o'clock rendezvous, ten sunlit minutes, nine neighborhood noises, eight perfect presents, seven souls a-singing, six sweet surprises, five Christmas treats, four different books, three great dames, two hands two thumbs, and a volunteer named Mary.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ten Lords A-Leaping

The silent breeze commands all of nature to do as it wills. When the ivy that is wrapped around an old gray tree senses the wind, its clustered leaflets titter amongst themselves, and push each other aside, as if to move out of the wind's way.

A plant that hangs from the gray tree, by a rusted chain, spins slowly, round and round, when the breeze curls past it. Below the drying-out hanging plant, sits a plant whose roots are deeply buried in a pot. Its spiky tendrils quiver under the gust's pressure, but refuse to be pushed aside. Each needle shakes and shivers, but retain their dignity by staying firm.

Behind the potted plant, dance two plants that are tall, but appear to soft to be trees. They make the best of the wind by rocking back and forth, companionably. They closely resemble umbrellas, their protection from the rain being branches with bright green and rounded leaves. At least, they would be bright green if the sun would favor them. As it is, the sun is obscured by a cloudy sheet. All of the plants appear muted, duller, somehow, with the absence of the sun. Perhaps their lack of vibrancy is the reason they bow to the wind.

For that is what the palm trees do. When the lightest breath of a wind makes its presence known, each bluish frond of the palm trees, nods its head in submission. Under the bowing fronds, older, browner branches that have fallen are bent almost in half. They are two weak now to do anything but nod apologetically, when a wind flies past.

But then, in the wind's pushy haste, it blows the clouds accidentally aside, and the sun shines right through. I breathe deeply, as if I could inhale the welcome sunlight. The sun gazes lovingly at every child of Mother Nature, kindly highlighting the best feature of each. My brown hair glows gaily, appearing almost auburn in this light.

Glancing back at the group of growing things, I can tell that the plants' colors have changed as well. Everything seems brighter, more full of life. When a gale comes through now, the plants react in the same way they always have, but there is a sense of hope in the air. I can feel the plants smile enduringly under the wind's oppression. The sun would inevitably be smothered by a pillow of clouds once more, but for these few moments, we all have faith that something fairer was on the horizon.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me ten sunlit minutes, nine neighborhood noises, eight perfect presents, seven souls a-singing, six sweet surprises, five Christmas treats, four different books, three great dames, two hands two thumbs, and a volunteer named Mary.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Nine Ladies Dancing

The brown leaves rustle as I rake them into a large pile. My sister is also raking. The leaves are light as feathers and fly up, then flutter to the ground when her rake passes over them. A quick, sharp pain shoots through my ear drum as her metal rake scrapes the concrete driveway.

The sound of a passing car reaches me, and I glance up, curiously. An old man opens his door and walks from his driveway to the house. I return to raking. A few minutes later his wife is walking out with him. He opens the door for her, then walks to his side. Beautiful.

I rake on, with a quiet smile on my face. Everything is silent, except for the soft scratching of the rakes on the grass. My ears perk up when I hear a siren in the distance. Is someone hurt, or are they in trouble? My untrained ears cannot tell the difference yet. The sound seems to get closer, but then trails off. Another unsolved mystery.

Splish splat. Drip drop. Is that rain? I look up and get a raindrop square in the eye. My sister and I run to the shelter of our home. We decide it was high time for a break anyway. I hear the sound of crunching, and I turn to discover my sister eating cereal. Soon, I follow suit and begin eating a late brunch myself.

The dog chooses this very moment to let fly a resounding bark, echoing in the house. It pierces our ears and causes us to retaliate with a "Hush, Lady!". Lady looks at us and tilts her German Shepherd head. Then her ear flicks back, to catch a noise, and bays once again.

Leaving the house, I return outside to continue raking. The first voice that reaches my ears is that of a siren, calling once again. I reply to the lone siren's call by praying. I wonder if an ambulance is driving to the next-door neighbors again.

My sister and I fall into the old pattern of shuffle-rustle-scrape. The grass seems to be getting greener as the dead, brown leaves are stripped away. Everything begins to look and sound better than before.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me nine neighborhood noises, eight perfect presents, seven souls a-singing, six sweet surprises, five Christmas treats, four different books, three great dames, two hands two thumbs, and a volunteer named Mary.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Eight Maids A-Milking

I peer through lace cloth, and then I see nothing, and then the light flashes once more, only to be extinguished again. Rhythmically, it brightens my world, and then vanishes. I try to collect my bearings. Where am I? My arms are wrapped around a bristly pole. I get poked by needles if I venture too far from the center. So I use my eyes to take in my surroundings. When the twinkling light goes out briefly, I can see that there are stars all around me. By their light I see branches jutting out from the center, where I am standing. I creep out onto one of these sticks, hoping it does not break under me.

A huge red orb looms in front of me, and I nearly fall from fright. I scoot backwards until I have reached the safety of the pole. Once I am there, I slide down until I am on the next level of branches. Perhaps this time, I will be more fortunate. As I move slowly forward, I see a brown man, his face obscured, as one of the stars shine behind him. I do not trust his generic shape, and I shimmy down the pole again. I see a different shape further down, a clear diamond. It is the relief of three bells. When I get closer, I see that it is not a window, as I had hoped, but just a decoration. Disappointed, and getting very tired of this whole adventure now, I decide to try one last time. On this bottom layer of branches, I see a little wooden angel. She does not speak as I approach, and this comforts me. Her little halo is bent in such a way that seems to point to her right. I inch past her, a little further on the branch, and see a string of crimson berries. I glance back at the little angel. A gust of wind blows past us and she seems to nod in approval of what I am about to do. I grab hold of the berries and jump.

My landing is surprisingly soft. The ground appears to be a blanket of some sort. Eight enormous boxes with my name on them stand in my way, so I climb over and around each of them to get away from this wacky wonderland.

On the eighth day of Christmas my True Love gave to me eight perfect presents, seven souls a-singing, six sweet surprises, five Christmas treats, four different books, three great dames, two hands two thumbs and a volunteer named Mary.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Seven Swans A-Swimming

I make my way down the pew, stopping halfway, because there is a couple sitting at the right end. I look over my left shoulder; two of my friends are sitting with me. In my hands, a candle in what appears to be a green, plastic cup lies limply. It has been a while since I have been to a candlelight service. Where do I put the candle until it is time to light it? This is as sticky a situation as communion. I awkwardly set the candle by my purse, then rearrange my purse so it is level to the pew.

Soon the lights dim, and the worship leader makes her way to the front of the church. I crane my neck to see what she is doing, and happen to see two people stop at our pew and sneak quietly in. I pull my purse closer to me to make more room for them. They have barely made it in time. The next minute, the worship leader has begun to light the candles. She stops at the end of each pew, and lights a candle, trusting that each churchgoer would light his neighbor's candle. I am close to the back of the church, so I have enough time to watch what happens in the front, before the light gets to me.

Eventually, the light shines at the end of the bench, and it slowly ignites its way ever closer to me. Finally, my wick touches another, and new light springs forth. I cannot keep it to myself; I pass it on to my friend. He, in turn, lights the last candle on our row. By this time, the worship band is up on the stage. They begin singing Silent Night. It is a difficult song to sing, and I find I am not the only one having trouble. There is a sense of unity in common failings. We sing the many stanzas with all the heart we can muster. Then, we have a moment of silence to thank God for sending his Son to light our way.

The candles are being blown out, and so I extinguish mine and place it in one of the holes normally reserved for communion cups. The lyrics for "Joy To the World" appear magically on the screens, and we start singing it at a pace that is more my style. I feel every word and my soul seeks to escape and dance on its own. For now it settles for dancing in my toes and lungs. It is over all too quickly, and I sit somewhat sadly back down in my seat. Still, the echoes of the singing reverberate inside my ears, and satisfy my spirit.

On the seventh day of Christmas my True Love gave to me seven souls a-singing, six
sweet surprises, five Christmas treats, four different books, three great dames, two hands two thumbs and a volunteer named Mary.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Six Geese A-Laying

"Just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring ting tingling too. Come on it's--"

My hand slid off the alarm clock radio and I rolled over, snuggled under my comfy covers. It's so warm here...

"Jenn. It's time to get up! We have to go or we'll be late."

We were late anyway. The fire station would be handing out toys and food from between 8AM and 12PM. I was texting my friend at 8:15, telling him I would be a little late. When Jess and I arrived there, it took all of our organizational skills to keep ourselves afloat. Toys were everywhere. Once someone threw the three of us some instructions, we clung to them eagerly, and set about accomplishing them. While we were talking, the new movie, Avatar, came up. We all wanted to see it, so we set about reserving the tickets right away. It was great to be spontaneous and just go to a movie because we felt like it. Wouldn't my brothers be surprised? They had been trying to make us watch the movie for a while, now.

I have been known to watch sci-fi, when I can, so I did not need much convincing to see it. Going into the movie theater, I only hoped it would be good, so the prestigious reputation of science fiction would not be tainted. Coming out of the movie theater, I had only one word: Wow. This movie told a story as old as time, but it was written and directed so well, that I felt I too had walked the alien planet. I felt pleasantly surprised that a movie like that could make me feel so emotionally connected to fictional characters.

After the movie, I came home to unexpectedly find two old friends of my grandparents whom I have not seen since I was a child. The smell of hot chocolate wafted from the den to my inhaled breaths. Ahhhh...the picture was practically perfect, with all of us parked around the Christmas tree, sipping our mugs of hot cocoa, catching up on all that had passed.

I happened a glance at the clock and realized that I had not much time before the staff Christmas party. I raced to my room to hurry everything together. I noticed an envelope, lying on my bedspread. "What's this?" Jessica read over my shoulder and we both realized that it was from our Nana in California. What fun! Putting it lovingly aside for later, we dashed out the door, just in time to be fashionably late...again...

There's nothing better than spending time with those you love. Our staff Christmas party felt more like a family reunion, even though we were not family and we had just seen each other yesterday. Our hostess created a warm atmosphere for our party, and cooked a feast fit for a king. Her husband shocked us with magic tricks galore, and we giggled until our sides were sore. But his jokes were not what I most adored, for there was something more that left me floored.

I wish I could tell you, dear reader, but it would ruin the surprise.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me six sweet surprises, five Christmas treats, four different books, three great dames, two hands two thumbs, and a volunteer named Mary.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Five Golden Rings

Mm mm. I picked the aubergine-colored ring off of the cupcake. I was going to enjoy this purple cupcake. It was the type that is so sweet, you die and ascend to a sugary heaven. But then it all became too sweet and I had to wash it down with some not-as-sweet cola.

"Third grade!" A voice called out from the next room. That meant me. As the third-grade teacher, I was responsible for lining the children to meet Santa Claus and accept their presents. I threw away my cupcake wrapper on the way to the door. Everyone was so excited to be so close to opening the gifts. After all these weeks of waiting, Santa was finally here. The children seemed to be thinking, Would I get what I wanted? If I was extra nice to Santa, could I trade my gift in for a better one? You could cut the anticipation in the air with a cake knife. I finally corralled all the children together and walked into the room where Santa Claus himself was sitting near a Christmas tree with gifts at his feet. He called the kids one by one until each child had gotten a gift-wrapped toy, lovingly made by one of his "elves". Seeing the joy on some of the faces of the children was a lovely treat for me.

After the last child left, my sister drove me home so we could quickly decorate a few cookies. Embellishing those trees, angels, snowmen, bells, and baubles was great fun, and we finished them in enough time to be fashionably late for our Christmas cookie swap. Our friend had made angel hair with a bolognese sauce for dinner. It was delicious. We waited a few minutes for our stomachs to settle, and then attacked our Christmas goodies. My sister and I had brought cinnamon rolls and sugar cookies, and another good friend had brought brownies. As we consumed these scrumptious desserts, our conversation careened between topics like college classes and celebrities. We ate sweets until we could not stand the sight of any of our desserts. Even though we can no longer see the goodies, our stomachs and the lack of energy after a sugar rush are constant reminders of the gluttony of an earlier moment. Now I know why sugar plums dance in children's heads on the night before Christmas.--They can't think of anything else!

On the fifth day of Christmas my True Love gave to me five Christmas treats, four different books, three great dames, two hands two thumbs, and a volunteer named Mary.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Four Calling Birds

I seem to be reading a lot of books about going against the grain. In all of my holiday readings, there is an interwoven desire to be different. "Being a Man" is an article written by Paul Theroux about how society forces boys to grow up and prove their manliness. It is featured in the Norton Reader, which is an anthology that I am attempting to read from every day. In "Being a Man", Paul Theroux writes that he has "always disliked being a man." He also talks about how girls are taught to be coquettish and "lady-like". His main complaint about "being a man" is that writing is not seen as an appropriate occupation for men. Paul Theroux states that "the male writer must prove he has achieved a sort of muscular manhood" in order to be accepted. By unveiling this social intrigue, Paul Theroux has set himself apart from most writers.

A book that has set itself apart from all others is the Bible. I have a daily reading Bible that I am trying to read...daily. I am up to Day 31. Part of today's reading was from Mark, chapter ten. A rich man asks Jesus how he can be saved. Jesus reminds him of the commandments. The man said he had kept them all. Then Jesus said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." The New Revised Standard Version says the rich man "was shocked". It was quite a revolutionary concept and still is today. Giving up what we love most to bring glory to God. Wow. Unfortunately, that idea is a very hard thing to bear for most of us.

I have begun a journey through a book that is very difficult, indeed. Wicked, which is written by Phillip Maguire, is written so well that I have begun to sleep with a dictionary next to my bed. I both love this book and hate it. I love it for its genius with words and the intelligence that seeps through each page. But I despise it for the dark feeling that also lurks behind every word. The book follows the life of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. From the earliest moments of her being, Elphaba was different. Her skin was green, she had razor-sharp teeth, and she was a girl, when her parents had wanted a boy. Her nanny thought Elphaba decided to be that way. "Perhaps, thought Nanny, little green Elphaba chose her own sex, her own color, and to hell with her parents." No matter how she got that way, Elphaba was unapologetic about being offbeat.

On one of my many romps to the library, I picked up and checked out a lovely, little book called Christmas in My Soul. It is compiled and edited by Joe Wheeler and has several lovely stories inside. The only one I have actually read so far and can vouch for, is "Why the Minister Did Not Resign". It spins a tale of a divided congregation and their exhausted minister. He had planned to resign on Christmas Day, because the bad blood between two clans caused a great divide, literally, in the church. The middle aisle divided the two families and their supporters. On Christmas Day, the two children who were to represent their respective clans by singing carols, came in late, hand-in-hand, singing together. After they sang the song through, they surprised the whole congregation by sitting in each other's places in the pews. In their quiet, childlike approach, they had fought to make a difference in the way their parents treated each other. They went against all they had been taught, in order to have "peace on earth and goodwill toward men".

On the fourth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me four different books, three great dames, two hands two thumbs, and a volunteer named Mary.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Three French Hens

"I hope those mothers don't complain about their gifts! If they complain, I'll just tell them we don't have to help them!" Exclaimed an anxious volunteer.

"Don't say that. It'll be fine." Soothed her friend.

They were not the only ones who were nervous this morning. Most of the Salvation Army volunteers present had worked very hard earlier to prepare for this very moment. While we had been told how to give the toys and clothes to the parents, no one could account for human jealousy. We hoped the women would be thankful, but the police officer standing nearby was not a very comforting sign.

I soon became very grateful for the policeman, because he directed the women into a line and checked their I.D.s. He was a very welcome figure of authority, at least, to me. He sent a woman from the line to me as soon as I finished presenting the last one with gifts. I saw many women, and most of them were very appreciative and wished me a "feliz navidad". Unfortunately, one rotten apple can spoil the whole lot of memories. One woman sat down and was overly chatty. Nothing wrong with that; she's just talkative. But something just did not seem right. I asked her the age of her children, because there seemed to be conflicts with the paperwork. She gave me a blank stare and when she didn't answer, I asked her again. I knew she spoke English. She was speaking fluently just a second earlier. Finally she answered that she had told me the wrong age. "I forget sometimes, you know." She chuckled. I tried to chuckle with her, but I could see her face twitch slightly. Could this have been my imagination? Oh Lord, please tell me this woman is not on drugs, I cried in my mind. As she walked away, my mind carried my soul away and down a dark path. How could a mother do that to her children? This unanswered question lay heavy on my heart throughout the afternoon.

I lightened up when I heard the director of the after-school program where I teach, talk about her grandson. Apparently, he was volunteering at many places and had quite a tender heart for helping people. I am sure he got that from our director. She loves her staff and the children as if they were her own children or grandchildren.

While listening to our caring boss, my cellphone reported jubilantly that a text message had arrived. Blushing because the noise had interrupted our staff meeting, I flipped open the phone and found a message from my my Sunday school teacher. It declared that she was volunteering at the Salvation Army and was sorry she missed us. How sweet of her! I often feel like her adopted daughter, because of how she is thinks of me and my sister. She is always giving us invitations to serve God with her. Everywhere my Sunday school teacher looks, she sees an opportunity to serve God. She has taught me that being close to God and waiting on Him brings unspeakable joy into one's life.

When I arrive home at night, I am tired, but I am never to exhausted for a chat with my grandma. She often regales me with stories from her pregnancy center. She provides information to many young women in crisis pregnancies, teaches parenting classes, and runs the center as director. She is completely dedicated to her work, and that same dedication pours into her family. Today I found out that she got everything set in place so that my parents would be able to go Christmas shopping. This is no small feat, as my family lives in Africa at present. Even though my father is grown, my grandmother will never stop being his mother.

As I think about these mothers in my life, I can see that I have been asking God the wrong question. Instead of why there are bad mothers, I should be asking him, "Why have you blessed me with so many great mothers?" I have no clue as to the answer of this question, but I am grateful all the same.

On the third Day of Christmas my True Love gave to me three great dames, two hands two thumbs, and a volunteer named Mary.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Two Turtle Doves

I push the church gym door open with my hands. Oooh, they're cold; I put them in my jean pockets. "What can we do?" Is the unspoken question on all of our minds and hearts, as we volunteers look at all the disorganized garbage bags full of Christmas stockings and gifts. Soon there is a row of tables set up and volunteers with reflective safety vests are sorting stockings by age and gender. My hands are still in my pockets. It is too early in the morning for thinking.

I pick up a stocking and examine it closely, trying to classify it. My vision is a little blurry, and I hold the stocking further from my face, guessing that I need new glasses. I stare at the pencils and calculator and wonder who would put a calculator in a child's stocking, when a second-time volunteer attracts my attention, by saying "Hey, you guys"--addressing my sister and me--"come over here, I have a job that'll be a little easier for you."

She means well, I think to myself, trying not to be a little injured. Today is not supposed to be about me anyway. The very friendly volunteer leads Jess and me over to a mountainous pile of white plastic bags. "All of these need to go in numerical order. The signs here and here show where the numbers are. See, they are 8000-8099 and 8100-8199 and so on. Okay?" I peer at the posted signs on the wall. Oh joy! They look like library numbers. "Okay!" I'm beaming from ear to ear now. I can do this!

Some of the plastic bags have come untied, and need to be retied. I dream about the journey these sacks must have traveled, littered with obstacles, in order to arrive stretched out and without a knot. I pull the bags' mouths into a taut knot and tote them over to their designated spot on the gym floor. As I go back for another two bags, for that is all I can carry at once, I absent-mindedly massage my hands. I look down at them. They are a little cramped from the tugging and are beginning to itch from all the dirt. My! How dirty my hands are! I glance from the white plastic bags to my now black palms. How did that happen?

While listening to "Jingle Bell Rock" on the radio, I clumsily adjust my fingers, trying to wiggle them into a position that does not completely crush my thumbs in the process. After several attempts, my thumbs cramp up in protest, and I have to stop for a minute. Maybe I'll go wash my hands, I thought, oddly believing this would appease my thumbs. I begin to wonder how poor dogs must feel, not having thumbs at all, I being a firm believer that animals do feel something.

After all the bags have been sorted and resorted, I get to do the fun stuff. I am now instructed by the captain to sort all of the toys into age and gender. "Yes, Captain", I reply gleefully, after all, it isn't every day you meet a captain.

Too soon it is lunch time, and we all flock to the kitchen to pick our poison and pizza slices. My hands work autonomously, feeding the sausage and pepperoni pieces onto my plate. I sit down and chat casually with a volunteer about morning sickness, hers not mine, like old friends. Even the captain sits with us and shares in our conversation, even though she is interrupted by her cell-phone halfway through lunch.

My fingers tap my sister's wrist so she will show me the time. It is time to go. I walk out of the church and it is colder than before. Back my hands go, this time into jacket pockets. Cold on the outside, but warm on the inside. That's just how I like it.

On the second day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me... two hands, two thumbs, and a volunteer named Mary.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Partridge In a Pear Tree

On the first day of Christmas my True Love gave to me... a volunteer named Mary.

As much as I love my kids from St. John's after-school program, they can be quite a handful. There are nineteen 3rd graders in all, and they're all mine. While the boys are in the middle of a scuffle because of a look, I have often prayed for someone to help me with them.

Today was Mary's first regular volunteering day. She helped out on Friday, but that day we just practiced "Silent Night" in sign language, and went outside to play, since the children did not have any homework. Because we are so close to Christmas, the children came with much less homework than usual. Yay! During reading time, some of the children read aloud. I allow this, because it helps some of them focus. Unfortunately, this encourages some of the other kids to talk to each other, thinking the teachers wouldn't notice. Before you know it, the whole room is abuzz and no one can hear herself think. In the middle of the rumblings in the room, Mary shook her head and said, "How do you do this every day?" I could only tell her that it gets better after a while. And it does. Strangely, her reaction makes me feel better. Remembering how overwhelming a situation feels at first shows me how far we've already come. Looking back makes it easier for me to look forward to the future.

A little later, Mary found her voice. She asked a student a whether he had homework or not. He disrespectfully answered with a muttered response, but Mary was not having any of that! She turned to him and said "What did you just say to me?" This time he answered honestly, saying, "No ma'am" as clear as day. The winds, they are a-changing! I was so glad that Mary was someone who I could rely on as a helper during homework.

Thank You, Jesus, for sending Mary to me!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Semester Scribblings

Starting tomorrow, I will be writing a blog every day based on the 12 Days of Christmas. If I start tomorrow, the twelfth day of Christmas should land on Christmas Day. Yay! Can't wait! :D

Until then... I thought I'd amuse you with some of the sketches I drew during my government class. A big thank-you to my grandma, who chose to, rather than scold, provide me with a sketch book. All of these drawings are in order from the earliest to the latest date. Some of them are not finished because I stopped drawing when class ended.

The Government Professor

A Fashion Model (didn't turn out too well)

A Southern woman from my History book

A married Native American couple who
assimilated into white American culture

An owner and her dog from an insurance

An African child refugee fleeing with his

A puppy and kitten snuggling in a
2010 calender

I hope you enjoyed a couple of those sketches. Sorry the pictures are hard to see. You see, my scanner refuses to work.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Time to Clean this Old House

My first plans for Christmas Break involved not much more than hiding away hermit-style and reading all those books I had promised myself I'd read later. I would just love to read The Norton Reader, which is a collection of essays and book excerpts, that I had to buy for school.

All that reading would make me hungry. Wouldn't it be loverly to sit and read until spring crept over me windowsill, eating homemade Christmas cookies the whole time? I could bake them during Christmas break.

Oh, but I would gain weight! And how! How would I keep off the pounds and also prepare for the coming kickboxing class in the spring? I would have to fit in some time for walking and the occasional sit-up.

While I'm exercising, I might as well become completely healthy and change my eating habits. For years I have been trying different things to make my face blemish-free, and so far, nothing has worked. I am now considering eating and drinking differently, as what we eat has been known to show up on our faces.

As I Google all sorts of diets and high-protein foods, I am also reading a blog. The blog talks about how not everyone is blessed with comfort at any time of the year, much less at Christmastime.

I jotted on my schedule to remember to volunteer during Christmas break. My Sunday School teacher and friend had recommended a feed-the-homeless program. The Salvation Army always needed help too.

By now my schedule is looking pretty full. How will I fit it all in? I become frustrated, and matters are made no better when the villains of this world aggravate me. I wonder what's wrong with me and why don't I feel Christmasy.

Then I remember, oh yeah, I should probably read some Bible during Christmas Break too. As I jot it last on my list, I ask myself, could my priorities be screwed up? I sigh and walk to my room, where I should find my Bible hardly touched since Sunday.

I can't find my Bible.

My room is in such a sad state, jackets thrown here, essays stockpiled there. I cannot but help thinking that my room is a reflection on my life. Time to get my priorities straight. Spending time with my Savior and reflecting on His Word have to come first. Before reading, baking, exercising, dieting, or even volunteering, I must clean this old house. I feel inspired by the song "Whatever You're Doing" by Sanctus Real. Here is the youtube link:

I will leave you with the ditty that occasionally pops into my head:

Jesus and others and you
What a wonderful way to spell joy
Jesus and others and you
in the life of each girl and each boy
“J” is for Jesus for He has first place,
“O” is for others you meet face to face,
“Y” is for you, in whatever you do,
Put your self third and spell JOY