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Archive for December, 2007

In my morning cruise around blogland, I stopped by Hallie’s site and she introduced me to a beautiful young lady named Laura.  

Laura is keeping a blog on her efforts to make a difference each day leading to Christmas, and honestly, I can’t think of a better Advent calendar than that.  [Although Abby wanted me to say that, while Laura’s Advent calendar is more in keeping with the season, her puppy Advent calendar is tastier.]

Please go check out Laura’s site and leave her an encouraging comment, not just to recognize her efforts, but to encourage yourself to look for ways you can make a difference each day.

Good work, Laura.  Good work.

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Time speeds up in December

Are there actually fewer hours in the month of December, or am I the only one who suspects that…?  I mean, come on, already! I’ve got ten thousand things to do and nine more days to get them done!

Here’s the quick recap of the weekend: Friday, I celebrated my anniversary with Tony (17 years!) by meeting him for dinner, doing some shopping together, and baking cookies.  Oh, and I decorated my house.  Here’s a bit of friendly advice to any young lovers out there in blogland:  Don’t expect to have quiet, intimate anniversaries if you get married ten days before Christmas!  But there are advantages, as I’ll get to later. 

Anniversary pupsOh, and here’s what Tony brought home for our anniversary!

Yeah, sure, it ain’t DeBeers, but I can see a lot of our relationship reflected in those magnetic-nosed kissing pups, and I loved it!  We don’t need expensive gifts to express our love….and a good thing that is, too.

Saturday, we celebrated my mother’s birthday, and I continued to decorate the house and bake cookies.  The ironic thing is that Saturday was our anniversary, and Friday was my mother’s birthday!  But since we just couldn’t manage to get our schedules worked out, we just rearranged the calendar a bit. 

So, if you’ve been feeling a bit like your Friday was really a Saturday, and that Saturday felt like Friday all over again, you can blame us. 

Because I had baked some cookies, done a little shopping, and decorated the house, my seasonal to-list was down to a more manageable 9, 997 things to get done in nine days!  I was making real progress!  In fact, I felt so accomplished, I put down my decorating/knitting/baking and went to spend the day with my grandparents.

Today, winter arrived in North Georgia!  Brrrrr.  The high was 37 degrees, but with the blustery wind it seemed much more like 27, and temperatures tonight are expected to be around 25.  Since there’s nothing in the garden right now but greens, lettuces, radishes, and turnips, there also isn’t a lot of work to be done.  Grandpa and I drained the water from the irrigation hoses, and ran the tractors for a few minutes to warm them up.  Then, we decided that the very best way to spend the day would be to look at seed catalogs and think of spring.

I think I learned more in those four hours about gardening in the South than I did in the whole summer.  Together we went through the catalogs page by page, while I read him the descriptions and he told me about his experiences with this cultivar or that variety.  Which tomatos do best early, which will set more fruit in the heat, which cataloupes will last the longest after picking, how to plant asparagus…the only thing that would have made that shared time better would have been a tape recorder.  How will I ever remember the collected wisdom of 85 years? 

And the best part of all was that, because I put down my extensive task list in favor of spending time with my grandfather, he gave me a wonderous gift that never gets old. 

Between the plant knowledge and the weather lore, Grandpa managed to fill the gaps with glimpses at his past, my family’s past…my past.  Every time I talk to him, I see our lives revealed like the restoration of a ancient church frieze.  You can already see that it’s a rich canvas of rare beauty, but the smoke and oil of time have besmirched it and darkened the colors.  But slowly, in small increments, the soot is cleaned away to expose the bold and vivid brushstrokes of the Master Artist. 

And on a frosty winter day in 2007, while reading professional grower’s catalogs, my Grandfather told me the story of how, because of a frosty winter night in 1950, he got out of the professional grower’s business and went to work for the railroad in the job that later severely injured him, allowing him to retire early on a reliable railroad pension.  So he could return to the business of growing things, and teach his granddaughter to cultivate the land, and rest on the frosty winter days.

Look, Grandpa –  the Master Artist painted a cyclorama, and called it life.

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My Christmas Progress

One of the disadvantages of living in the country and working in the city is a 45-minute commute twice a day.

One of the advantages of living in the country and working in the city is a 45-minute commute twice a day. 

For me, this time is a time of reflection for me, one of the few quiet moments in the day that is not measurable by it’s production value, the expertise in getting the right technology/pedagogy mix, the ability to juggle multiple, competing tasks while still being supportive of my students and responsive to the faculty.  For 90 minutes each day, I can follow a familiar earthly road and let my mind traverse through a diverse landscape of thoughts.

As we draw ever closer to Christmas (and yet, mysteriously, not any closer to being finished with my knitting projects….) I find that, naturally, many of my thoughts turn to the holiday and what it means for me. 

As I draw ever closer to the age of 40 (and yet, mysteriously, not any closer to figuring out what the answers to life are…) I find that my views on many subjects, Christmas included, have become more panoramic.  I can see how my observation of this holiday has changed over the years, through my life experiences, and through my relationships.

So, driving along the road this morning, sipping on my coffee, I replayed some of my past Christmases and my progress through the years.  

Of course, when I was a child, Christmas was all about gifts, but specifically, gifts to me.  A good Christmas was measured by the quantity, and quality, of the gifts I received, and believe me, my mom and dad made sure that all my Christmases were good.

When I met Tony, that changed.  I wish I could say it changed before I married Tony, but even up to the age of 21, Christmas was still about the gifts to me.  When I found myself head over heels in love with the man who was to become my husband, Christmas for me became all about gifts to him.  I lavished gifts both large and small on him, showing him my love in the best way I had been taught by my parents:  more gifts equals more love.  [That’s unfair to my parents.  They tried to teach me better ways, but that’s the one I latched onto.]  I spent a lot of energy and a lot of money in my efforts to show him that he was everything to my young life.  During those first years together, our love was enough for me, and I celebrated our love, and our December 15th anniversary, through gifting.

Then we started to plan a family, and suddenly other visions of Christmas started to creep into my imagination.  Views of children, and Santa Claus, and, well…..you know the rest….the children never joined our Christmas celebrations.  Within a couple of Christmases, everything about my view of Christmas changed.  Tony’s love wasn’t enough, and giving him gifts didn’t bring me the same joy.  It wasn’t him I only wanted to give gifts to, anymore, and while I still gave gifts, they couldn’t give me the joy that I felt I was being denied at Christmastime.  Christmas wasn’t about me, anymore, and it wasn’t about Tony, anymore.  It had become about my pain.

I lost a lot of Christmases drowning in that feeling.  I gave gifts, but not joyfully.  I received gifts, but they didn’t make me happy.

As I started to emerge from my darkness, Christmas started to become less about gifts, and more about spending time with my family, particularly as my brother’s family brought new lives around our tree, and as I’ve grown closer to my aunts and grandparents.

So, as I look at myself today, and how I’m moving towards this Christmas, I have to ask myself, what is this Christmas going to be about?  How will I judge the holiday: by my gifts received, by my gifts given, or by the contents of my heart?  My viewpoint has shifted from me, to my husband, to me again, and then out to my loved ones.  It sounds like a triumph of personal growth, doesn’t it?  I’ve come a long way in my progress towards the meaning of Christmas.

But if I’m honest with myself, I’m still missing the point.  Until I can honestly say that my gaze has come to rest, not on these people, but on the child in the manger and the man He became, I’m still missing out on the greatest Christmas gift of all – the gift of a Savior, the gift of adoption into God’s family, and the gift of moving beyond myself and towards eternity.

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The Dog Days of Christmas

Since Tony and I don’t have a houseful of human children, but rather a houseful of four-legged children, our Christmas traditions may be just a bit different than yours…..

We tried hanging stockings by the mantle, but the cats kept jumping up and grabbing at them.

We tried putting a train around the base of our tree, but again, the cats and dog wanted to chase it.

We even tried letting our children open their wrapped gifts from Santa Paws, but we were afraid that Oliver would eat the ribbon.

Alright, perhaps I exaggerate a little, but the holidays without having children does make you reexamine your traditions and rituals.  And sometimes, out of creativity (or desperation) you even create new traditions.

Take, for example, the Advent calendar.  You know what that is: as each day gets closer to Christmas Day, a little door is opened, or a drawer is pulled, or a pocket is inspected, each with a small gift or a piece of candy, or some other treat to make the countdown to Christmas both more concrete and more exciting.  Usually, children are allowed to do the opening. (The grown-ups already know how many days are left before Christmas, and they also know they are way, way behind in their shopping/cooking/knitting….or is that just me?)

Advent wreathSo here is our family version of the Advent Calendar.   Look closely.  I’ve lovingly tied 25 dog biscuits to a $5 wreath I got at a craft store, and added a craft-foam dog head to the bottom.  Cute, huh? 

So now, each day as we get closer to Christmas, we can take a cookie off the wreath and say, “Abby! Santa Paws will be here in just a few days!  Better be a Good Girl!  No chasing kitties!” 

She doesn’t understand what I’m saying.  The attention alone is enough to make her eyes sparkle, but with a cookie added into the bargain, she’s a twitching, focused, eager puppy.  And it brings holiday joy to our quiet home.

Now, if I could just keep the cats from looking in the closets for where I’ve hidden their kitty presents….

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Okay, regardless of how you feel about whether or not we’re actually living in the End Times as portrayed in the Book of Revelations, I can now offer you definitive proof that this is, indeed, a time of miracles.

Led Zeppelin is back together performing and discussing a tour!   Led Zeppelin

Now see, I’m too young to remember Led Zeppelin in their heyday. I’ve never seen them in concert except for the few concert movies that exist. And I have long resigned myself to my sad existence in a Post-Zeppelin World.

Oh, I’ve assuaged my love of Zeppelin with regular attendance at Robert Plant concerts, buying cd’s, dvd’s (although never those lame vintage concert t-shirts they sell in the music stores. I mean, come on, if you weren’t at the concert, you shouldn’t wear the shirt, right? It’s like a proof-of-purchase tag for concert attendance, and you’re just too pathetic if you try to pass it off….) But Tony, who’s only slightly (8 years!) older than me has always been able to say, “yeah, but you should have seen them in concert”. I like to believe he wasn’t flaunting his good fortune, but then, maybe he was….

I now live in hope that I can see the Led Zeppelin in concert! Who would believe it! A Christmas miracle!

And maybe some day I can say to my beloved nephew, Carter, “yeah, but you should have seen them in concert.” Oh yeah, you bet I’ll be flaunting it!

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You can teach an old toy new tricks

 

 

AbbyLast night I concocted more fun than I thought was possible while wearing pajamas (yes, plaid flannel) on a Monday night. See that little hooligan of mine to the left? That’s Abby, my sweet little mixed up girl. I say she’s mixed up, because she’s made from the spare parts of other dogs. We can’t figure out her breeds. Certainly part Golden Retriever, and part Chow, but maybe part pitbull, and sometimes she looks like a collie. She’s just mixed up, but all Abby. She came to live with me during my sick leave last year, and we bonded over recovering from surgery and watching tv together.

And let me tell you, I love this dog.

She’s so smart, and funny, but more than any other dog I’ve ever had, Abby loves to play. Her favorite things in life are wrestling, chasing cats (bad dog!) , fetching, wrestling, cookies, sleeping, wrestling, chasing peacocks (good dog!), fetching, and wrestling. Oh yeah, and she likes wrestling, too.

 

Last night, I completely rocked her world, and in exchange she rocked mine back. I found an old toy of hers, perhaps one of the first toys she had when she came to live with us, called Green Dinosaur. [Go ahead, just guess why we call it that…] One thing you have to understand about Abby is that she was very neglected when we found her. Well, that’s not true, exactly….she was very neglected when my mom, um, liberated her. She had no idea that dog food was food and just couldn’t believe the miracle of fresh water in a bowl all the time. She ate frogs and licked the dew off the grass for water.

 

And she’d never had a toy of her own as far as we could tell from her behavior. She loves toys. She just exudes joy when she gets a new toy, and she likes to round them all up and roll around on them a bunch at a time. I’m telling you, this dog thinks she’s living in heaven.

 

But even so, some of her favorite toys, like Green Dinosaur, have started to lose their appeal. She’ll take them out and run up and down the hallway with them, but in a few minutes she’ll change them out for Squeaky Shark, Squeaky Squirl, and Squeaky Elephant. Are you seeing a theme here? See, if Green Dinosaur squeaked, he would have been named Squeaky Dinosaur….but no.

 

Last night, I turned her puppy world upside down. I rounded up all her non-squeaky toys. Boy, was she ever curious!

 

Hey, Mom, those are my toys…Mom… mom! bring those back!…Wait a minute, what do you need four toys for, Mom! Come on, at least share with me….here, I’ll give you this tennis ball for just one of those toys….

 

I put Abby in a “sit-stay” and lined the toys up on the floor in front her. She was quivering.

 

Then I said “Okay! Get it!” She ran straight for Green Dinosaur, and that’s how I let her pick her favorite.

 

Time for a little Dino-surgery. I opened up a seam on the toy’s back, and silently slipped in……a squeaker.

 

Abby was watching my every move.

 

Hey mom, what are you doing with my………aaarrgh! You’ve cut his back wide open! What did you do that for! Gimme, gimme, GIMME!

 

After I sewed Green Dinosaur up, I handed him back to her, and she grabbed him so hard that, yep, he squeaked.

 

She was so shocked that her ears went straight up, her brow wrinkled, and she dropped him. Then she picked him up again. Squeak! …. squeak! squeaksqueaksqueaksqueaksqueaksqueaksqueak!

 

Oh my gosh, that silly dog played with that toy for hours, running up and down the hallway, showing it off to Tony, showing it off to the cats, as if to say, “Hey have you heard the news? Green Dinosaur squeaks! He squeaks! And you can’t have him, oh no you can’t!” We played and played and played until we were both exhausted. And her joy and happiness spilled over and filled the whole house.

 

Okay, I guess this is a pretty mundane post. No earth-shattering events here or deep, philosophical musings. Just pure unadulterated puppy love and joy. For those hours, I forgot all the “important” things I had to do, and I just played.

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The Grandpa Hat

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m frenetically knitting gifts for my family this year.  On Friday, while I was home with a bug, I managed to finish the largest of the gifts, a hat for my grandfather.

Grandpa Hat

It’s just a hat.  A dark green wool cabled hat, and honestly, it seems so inadequate.  Given the option and the ability, there’s nothing I wouldn’t give this man.  We’ve shared so much this year since I’ve been gardening with him, and I’ve learned important truths about my family, my grandparents, and myself.  How do you recognize that kind of relationship? What kind of gift says “Thank you for showing me so much about life this year”? 

If I could, I would repair his tractor for him, to make it shine and purr like it did when it was new so that he could see it that way again.  If I could, I would buy him an entire library of books on cd so that he could “read” again, despite his debilitating blindness.  If I could, I would take him to Alaska, a place he always wanted to see, and never could.

But I have to be content that I’ve done what I could, and hope that it conveys the depth of feeling I have for  him.  I’ve spent my time working with him, learning from him, listening to him.  I’ve learned to value the things he values, whether it’s the working of hands or the working of minds. 

And I knit him this small hat to keep his head warm when he walks his dogs.  So small.  So inadequate.  How can I let him know that with each stitch in the hat I was thinking of him?  That this hat is more than yarn and time and technique, but also composed of love, and prayers, and thanksgiving, and appreciation? 

I can’t tell him that, not out loud, but I can pray that he knows, that maybe he can sense that the warmth on his head is in some small way, the warmth of my heart.

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