Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas past

Today there is bright sun. I love the sun, and sunlight and daylight. There isn't much of it in Syracuse in the winter, so you have to cherish it when it shows up.

My birthday, December 22, is the winter solstice. This means that after my birthday, everything starts to get better; we are on the right side of the calendar; the days lengthen rather than shorten.

My birthday is generally the low point of the year, every year. I survive that (not gracefully, usually), and then we get through Christmas, which is tough, but not as tough as my birthday.

December 26 dawns with a new hope. I always feel so much better on December 26. It might be my favorite day of the year: the day when everything is over, and we have made it, and we can relax, rest, play our new games, read our new books and watch our new movies.

Today is not yet New Year's Eve. December 30, a no-man's-land of a date smack in the middle of the week that falls off the edge of the world every year. Today I will try to take a walk, appreciate the sun, eat healthy food and settle year-end money issues.

It was a tough year. There are a lot of things that happened this year that I was unable to share in the context of this blog, but yet things that our family will remember forever: among them, the tumultuous end to our vacation at the beach and the issues that precipitated it which have not yet been fully resolved.

You should never say, "Things can't get any worse," because they always can, and once you've said that, they always do.

Right now, at the end of 2010, I feel like I am poised on the edge of a knife. Things could get worse, or they could get better. This year will almost certainly bring great changes, and I don't like changes.

Ordinarily, at this point in the year, I am thinking about how best to pack away Christmas, making sure we have sparkling grape juice and ingredients for nachos to enjoy on New Year's Eve. Ordinarily, by now I am relaxed and ready for a fresh but uneventful "new start." Getting a new date book and starting to use it, that is a change I can handle. Getting ready to sell my house, not so much.

Dear Lord God,

Please give us guidance for the coming year. Please, in Your mercy and compassion, let it be a better year than last year. Please help me to be thankful for the many blessings you do bestow and to be patient and trusting about the blessings I want but don't feel I am receiving. Please help me to cherish Your constant and abiding presence with me.

Please answer some questions, direct our paths and provide for us according to Your will and purpose.

Please grant us health, especially David.

Please be our greatest treasure, and use us for Your Kingdom.


Sunday, December 19, 2010


"Christmas is coming on us like a night train!"

I think my dad used to say that.

When the kids were little, we had Christmas books we would read together. I still have them in a drawer in my bedroom. Someday, perhaps, I will have a grandchild to read them with.

One of the books had poems and carols printed amongst gentle Christmas illustrations. One of the songs in that book was this:

Christmas is coming
The goose is getting fat...
Please put a penny
In the old man's hat!

Every time I sang that song to the kids, I would finish by making a scared face with great big eyes and then crying out: "Christmas is coming on us like a night train!" Then we would jump up and run in a frenzy around the living room. Do not ask me why. I do not know.

I guess it is no wonder our family is a little, ahem, eccentric.

Having Lulu away at college has perhaps underscored this tendency towards eccentricity. She is the normal one among us, the one who can understand everyone and interface with anyone. When I am doing my multiple mouth rinses at night as I get ready for bed, she is the one who always knows what I mean when I gesture and make sounds without opening my lips (which would spill fluoride rinse on everything). She just knows what I am saying. Nobody else comes close, if they will even try to guess.

Laura can also understand David and Jonathan early in the morning when they are still grunting and not talking.

The rest of us all have our oddities and idiosyncrasies, but Laura is gracious and insightful and links us with the outside world. This is true even though I used to holler, "Christmas is coming on us like a night train!" at her, too, before the wild dance from the sofa to the kitchen where (if we were lucky) we'd find some Christmas cookies.

Laura is on the ball. She reads context clues everywhere, all the time. She understands things on a deep level. She has a natural ability to discern how people's minds work. She is so good for us. She is Marilyn Munster, and we are Herman, Lily and the rest.

She is scheduled to come home on Tuesday. The weather might be bad, so Shawn is probably going to get her, and I will stay home and vacuum and mix up cookie dough for her to bake with Shannon when she arrives.

And then it will feel like Christmas.

DJ was supposed to have a bronchoscopy on Monday, and then Laura's arrival would have really, totally and completely signaled the arrival of Christmas. However, they changed the bronchoscopy to Wednesday last I heard, and the nurse has yet to call me to give me the particulars, so I guess we aren't even certain of that. It looks like Lu will get home, and the next morning it will be off to the hospital for DJ and me.

I have never looked down the pipe at a Christmas quite like this one. There is a turkey thawing in the refrigerator, but the dining room has not yet been converted over from its current identity as Shawn's work space. I've bought a number of gifts, but as I go through them, I am not finding equal numbers of them for each child. (Please, somebody tell me that parity is over-rated.) We've spent less on gifts than almost ever before, mainly for lack of any good ideas... but for the very first time ever, we have two Christmas trees. One is tiny, but it has lights, ornaments and an angel on top!

Next week: Wrap, bake, get Lu, go to DJ's bronchoscopy, turn the dining room back into a dining room...

Oh, and I have a pretty bad cold.

"Christmas is coming on us like a night train!"

Jesus, please bless us on Your birthday.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Forever changes

The other day I had to mail some things at the Post Office.

It was the middle of a blizzard. We had over 4 feet of snow in over 100 hours of continuous snowfall during the past four days. Today started out sunny and cold, but now it's snowing again. We are supposed to have more snow tomorrow and a "real" blizzard on Monday.

Another year that I forgot to move out of New York.

The autumns here are so breathtakingly beautiful... you get all taken up in the leaves, the apples, the pumpkins, the slanted sunshine and the crisp air after a humid summer, and then winter catches you off-guard somehow. Actually, I really enjoy snow in December. It's January, February, March and April when I don't so much appreciate it.

But back to my trip to the Post Office. It was, of course, snowing, and the roads were slippery, the air blurry with snowflakes, and the sidewalks icy. I was in a hurry. I pulled into a parking spot at the Post Office, not a very good one, because I didn't want to wait for someone to back out of one of those. Figuring I was safer out on the fringes anyway, I parked about twenty yards away and tucked my scarf tightly around my neck before I got out of the car.

I always run when it is cold. I just do. Running minimizes the time you spend in the coldness. Sometimes I remember that I am in my mid-forties and try to start out walking, but the chill always gets the better of me, and in the end I sprint. DJ walks nonchalantly behind me, when he is with me, and once he told me, "I count how long it takes you to break into a run, and I try to guess ahead of time which number it will be."

So, there at the Post Office, under the overhang, along the icy sidewalk at the Bayberry Strip Mall, I jogged toward the blue mailboxes.

I was wearing my fake Ugg boots from WalMart. They are warm, and I don't need to fasten anything in order to wear them. However, they have wide, flat bottoms with no traction.

After dumping my mail into the mailbox, I triumphantly turned to sprint back to my van. And I skidded, sliding on the icy surface.

I did not fall, by a miracle of God. It was just a small slip, just enough to remind me of my fallibility. I kept running, because it was so cold, but I ran more carefully, with less abandon. And as I did, I thought of the cold, hard, pavement below me, covered in snow, ice, water and salt. I could almost taste it, that pavement, and the blood that would have been in my mouth had I fallen and broken out my front teeth and cut my lips.

The accident did not happen, but in my mind I lived it so vividly that my heart raced and I thanked God as I got into my van and fastened my seatbelt.

I thought what a big change it would have been, how one minute I would have been whole and reasonably healthy and pain-free, and the next minute I would have been bloody and broken, and in need of a dental bridge. In only an instant so many things can change.

Life is like that. We live our lives, going about our business and just thinking about the next thing, when suddenly something can happen, something we don't know will change us forever, but afterwards, we realize that it has.

Do you ever notice how so often the things that change us the most didn't seem that significant until afterwards?

You never know what will come of a book you page through at the library, a person you meet, an email you receive, a drive to the country. Sometimes results are not at all what we were hoping, and other times, results are so amazing we could never have dreamed them up if we tried. Sometimes nothing happens, and we are thankful for that.

God knows it all. God has it all planned in advance. That just blows my mind. There is not one thing that has ever happened to any of us that God did not orchestrate to fulfill His purposes. God knows on what count of DJ's I will break into a run, even if I do not know it myself. God knows every conversation we will have, every thought we will think, every action that will follow each thought.

God was there on the icy sidewalk outside the Post Office when I slipped and did not fall.

"If the Lord delights in a man's way, He makes his steps firm; though he stumble he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with His hand." Psalm 37:23-24

I hope the Lord delights in my way. Oh, how I hope that. I don't generally feel as though He would. Usually I feel as though He has a lot of work to do disciplining me to get me going the way He desires for me. But maybe the other day was a kindness from Him to encourage me.

Monday, December 6, 2010

James 1:19-27

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it--he will be blessed in what he does.

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight reign on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:19-27

After going for a record time without an outburst, today I lost it.

There are many reasons, most of them honestly logical and justifiable, why I would be angry. I will not get into them, because they would be damaging to discuss. All I will say is that it involves a biology project that Jonathan was supposed to hand in today.

There are other reasons why I am on the edge lately, many things weighing me down and making me feel like the breath of a butterfly could knock me over. These things are not my fault, nor are they Jonathan's fault. They just are. And I need to rest in the arms of Jesus, but I am not doing so well at that.

There is also the issue of my own pride. Once I get the email from the teacher telling me about my child's project and the next due date (because he hasn't been doing so well keeping track of things himself), at that point it becomes my responsibility and no longer his. I'm not sure how this is intended to work. Do the teachers mean to make me responsible? Or is this something I put on myself? At any rate, once I've been made aware, I feel that expectations are on me to ensure that Jon succeeds. So when he lets things go, fails to cooperate, I am afraid that I feel that it is a direct reflection on me, and that, of course, colors my responses.

It was an ugly, ugly morning, all the more so in contrast to how well we had been doing, generally. I feel defeated, sinful, discouraged, and wicked.

I feel unforgivable.

It is very hard for me to believe that there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

How will I ever teach my child to do the right thing when I myself continually do the wrong thing?

After it was over, I went into the study and my Bible was open to James 3--"Taming the Tongue." And the first verse in that chapter reads: "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." And I wonder, how does that fit with "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus..." (Romans 8:1)? I feel pretty condemned. Also, I feel glad that I retired from the Bible study that I taught. Last Tuesday was my last one. I'm thinking it's a very good thing.

Jonathan did take something to school to hand in. It is what it is, and it will be what it will be. God is in control, but I don't understand how it works, because I wish He would just control me, me personally, just put His holy hands on me and make me do the right thing before I do the wrong thing, make me still when I need to be still, and calm when I need to be calm and wise with His wisdom all the time. That's what I wish.

Yes, Jonathan made some very poor choices.

Yes, I responded to Jonathan's poor choices very poorly myself.

Yes (and here I am preaching to myself, because this is something I have trouble believing but I know that it is true): Yes there is forgiveness for both of us. Yes, God will pick us up, dust us off, and give us a "next time" when we can do better.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
Ephesians 1:7-8

It is for sinners like me and Jonathan (and everybody else) that Jesus died. This is the reason His precious blood was spilled at the cross. This is why I need to be thankful and believe that His sacrifice is sufficient. I am not big enough or bad enough to out-sin the grace of the cross. I am not beyond the sanctifying power of His Holy Spirit. He is able to deliver me.

To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy--to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.
Jude 24-25

Friday, December 3, 2010


Today I remembered...

When I was little, on Sunday mornings when we were all getting ready for church, my dad would go out to the garage and start the car to warm up, and then he'd come back in and stand by the front door calling out, "Last call for all aboard! Last call for all aboard!" He said "All-a-BOW-ward," just like a train conductor.

Also it was his birthday two days ago (12-1). He turned 79, so he says, "Now I've started my eightieth year."

Thursday, December 2, 2010


I have discovered that I like kefir. The taste took some getting used to at first, but now I like it, probably because it makes my poor finicky stomach feel so good.

It is really good for David, too. Actually it would be good for anybody.

I've been buying the Lifeway brand, and it is delicious: white, thick, creamy, smooth, tangy with a little hint of fizz. However, it is $3.69 for a quart, which comes out to about $0.93 per serving. I can buy the strawberry flavored kind at BJ's for less; I believe they have it for $4.99/two quarts, which, if I am correct, would be $0.63 per serving. But I don't like all the crud they put in the sweetened, flavored kind, and that is still pretty pricey, anyway.

Anyhow, with me drinking it, and David, and trying to get the other people in the family to enjoy its health benefits, I was starting to feel the pinch in my food budget, and I was starting to wonder if this is something you can make at home. Then I ran into a post about kefir on Tammy's blog.

I read the post, and studied the comments and the links. Her kefir looked like the Lifeway kind that I buy. Her little kids like it. Her instructions sounded easy. I decided to try to make kefir.

First, I tried to follow the link she posted to the woman from whom she got her kefir grains. I guess I'm just not that good at computers, and in the end, I couldn't get through to that woman's "shop." But on this site, there are lots of people selling kefir grains, so I ordered from somebody else, somebody in Colorado. The product arrived in just two or three days.

It came double wrapped in two ziplock bags. I opened it up and sniffed. It had a pleasant yeasty smell, a little bit sweet. I put my kefir grains into a clean canning jar and followed Tammy's instructions.

Now, I know Tammy says the first couple of batches won't be good. And so did the instructions that came with my grains. So I was prepared for this. The first batches have not been good.

Someone said they fed their failed batches to their dogs. Since Schubert has had a skin infection and been on an anitbiotic for over 20 days, I figured he needed a probiotic anyway, so I tried the kefir out on the dogs. They do like it, but you can only give them a little at a time.

(This is Schubert, depressed, on Thanksgiving. He had to wear this funnel on his head for 2 and 1/2 weeks. He says, "Funnels are not fun.")

In the meantime, I have all this yucky kefir.

This morning I made pancakes with it, and I thought about the irony. Usually I make Jonathan eggs or whole grain toast with natural peanut butter for his breakfast. We try to be healthy, you know. And now that I am trying so hard to be healthy that I am trying to make my own kefir... I made Jonathan pancakes with white flour, topped with high fructose corn syrup flavored with chemicals and artificial maple flavoring. The heat to cook the pancakes probably killed all the good probiotics and stuff in the kefir, too. Doesn't it just figure? However, Jonathan said of the pancakes, and I quote, "Wow, these are really quite good." (I did not mention to him that they had kefir in them. Also, for Jon, at 6:45 in the morning, that was inspired verbosity.)

In the meantime, my third batch of kefir is brewing on the counter. Third one's the charm, right? This is the one I am nervous about. This is the one that is supposed to turn out.

Up to now , the batches have been thin with clotted kefir curds floating around in them. The thing that scares me is that much of what I read on the internet seems to indicate that this is a normal consistency for kefir. I like the thick, smooth, creamy, store-bought Lifeway stuff.

Aaaugh. I didn't need an extra source of stress in my life right now.