Creating Priorities
Feb 25th, 2008 by Sonja

Sheesh … it’s been quiet around here for the last couple of days. Where’ve I been anyway?

I went to the Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival last Wednesday with BlazingEwe and didn’t get back til yesterday afternoon. We both had quilts hanging there. This was a first for us and quite exciting. We took classes; one that would help us be less precise and one that would help us be more precise. We’re so conflicted! Both teachers were very good, but we really connected with the second, who is about our age. We had lunch with her. Our teacher from last year remembered us and that was a thrill, too. All of this would be much more wonderful but for the fact that we’re usually the youngest women in these classes by about 20 years! So, we sorta stand out and not for our skill, technique, or talent. Perhaps it’s our charm.

In any case, you’ll see my quilt in next month’s issue of Porpoise Diving Life which is being guest edited in March by John Smulo. Porpoise Diving Life is always wonderful, but this year’s issues are a special treat because a group of us have gathered together to give Bill Dahl a sabbatical at his request. He’s writing a book and asked for some people to step forward so that he could focus his efforts. This month (February) is under the expert care and direction of Pam Hogeweide. In a future post, I’ll give you a list of the upcoming guest editors, so you can keep your eyes open. It promises to be a great year.

I came home from the festival with a renewed sense of how I want to organize and purpose my life. My path is still not clear, but I have a better sense of some of the things that need to be in each day. I know I need to have color and art be part of each day. I know I need to write each day as well. Perhaps doing these things will help the path become clear to me.

While we were in the hotel, BlazingEwe and I watched a fun movie called EdTV. It was an amusing, yet cutting, critique of our culture’s obsession with reality television. During one scene near the end, a friend of the main character was being interviewed on an Oprah Winfrey style show and he commented that, “I feel that Ed is the apotheosis of a prevailing American syndrome. It used to be that someone became famous because they were special. Now people are considered special just for being famous. Fame, itself, is now a moral good in this country. It’s its own virtue.”

That packs quite a punch … “Now people are considered special just for being famous. Fame, itself, is now a moral good in this country.”

Think about that for a while. Think about it in terms of the church in the western/industrialized hemisphere. Who do we follow and consider special? And why? Who floats to the top, and who wallows in the quagmire at the bottom? We like the Horatio Alger stories that it’s bootstraps, hard work, innovation and smarts that get people ahead in this country. It is our mythology that race, gender, poverty or a combination of those will not effect where we end up in this life.

So, why is this important? It is important because we are wired in some way to believe that those who are famous are leaders. They are the ones who have smarts, education, talent, or general chutzpah in some way that we should listen to. But should we? What if they’re just someone that an editor or producer thinks will sell?

Friday 5 – What Are You Doing For Lent?
Feb 8th, 2008 by Sonja

The RevGals Mother Laura writes: Ready or not, Lent is upon us!

1. Did you celebrate Mardi Gras and/or Ash Wednesday this week? How?

The LightFamily celebrated a small and quiet Mardi Gras with a dinner of red beans and rice and kings cake for dessert. The kings cake came with beads which we all wore during a discussion of Mardi Gras and then Lent.

2. What was your most memorable Mardi Gras/Ash Wednesday/Lent?

1983 … the prior summer I had worked a “real” job and earned enough money to have a tax return. This was enough to pay for a trip to New Orleans during my February break … which happily coincided with Mardi Gras!! I also had a friend who was going to Tulane who I had met during my semester at American University, so I had a place to stay. That was one wild few days and I absolutely loved New Orleans.

I got off the plane, took a cab into the middle of the city where I was meeting my friend (Roger – who was/is gay) and the middle of a parade and began catching beads. Somehow in the middle of the crazy drunkeness we managed to meet up. This was in the days before cell phones and all.

Tuesday morning, the morning of, a group of us white folk somehow ended up in the middle of an African American neighborhood during the Zulu parade. Potentially, this was not a safe place for us. But we were naive and unaware of our surroundings until much later. So we just hoisted the kids onto our shoulders so they could catch the beads, and did our best to fit in … so we did.

I loved the city for the 4 days after Mardi Gras as well and had a ball there. Getting on the plane to go back to college was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I wanted to throw everything away and stay there. But I did the responsible thing ….

3. Did you/your church/your family celebrate Lent as a child? If not, when and how did you discover it?

My family is agnostic, so no we did not celebrate Lent as a child. My exposure as a child to Lent was in books and my friends who were Catholic would come to school with ashes on their foreheads … and couldn’t really explain it. Even in highschool. We would all joke about giving up lima beans for Lent, or something equally horrid … like liver. I don’t remember discovering it, because from there my knowledge of it grew until the present day. There was no discovery, more of an evolution of awareness.

4. Are you more in the give-up camp, or the take-on camp, or somewhere in between?

I’m somewhere in between and do a little of both.

5. How do you plan to keep Lent this year?

In terms of giving up … I’ve given up soda. I need to do this for health reasons. It’s just not good to drink soda. In terms of taking on … I’m taking on the Jesus Creed Challenge. I was inspired by the Virtual Abbess and some graphics I remembered from my CLB and developed a journal for the challenge. I’ve only made 5 days of it yet, but if anyone would like to use it, you can download it here. And I’ve committed to decluttering for 15 minutes a day.

Finally … the Intangibles
Dec 27th, 2007 by Sonja

I wrote at some length about my best Christmas gift the other day.  But here are some other gifts I received on Christmas.

We have a new tradition now … spaghetti for dinner.  I spent a couple of hours making a (new) recipe for dinner.  Chicken Cassoulet with Acorn Squash.  It smelled delightful and yummy.  Just the thing for a winter dinner.  The thing about cassoulets is that they are soupy stews that you bake.  So I did as directed.  For the last half hour you should remove the dutch oven lid.  When the time came, I was feeling lazy and LightBoy loves to help in the kitchen.  So I directed him to remove the lid from the pot.  It seemed simple enough, but just pushing his envelope of responsibility so that he would feel necessary.  No.  It was too much.  He had not traversed the foibles of a heavy pan in the oven with the rack and the heat and everything before.  No one is really clear on what happened, but the cassoulet ended up on the floor, along with LightBoy’s self-esteem.  I hugged him and reassured him and mentally kicked myself in the a$$ for not getting up off the couch.  Then I promptly forgot everything I ever knew about the properties of heat transfer and suggested that he pick up the blazing pan lid that was sitting on the floor without an oven mitt.

LightHusband and LightMom made spaghetti for dinner after that.  I just could not recover.

And discovered that after years and years of thinking that Christmas dinner had to be special … it’s really the people, not the food.  We usually have roast beef because I love it.  Spaghetti was really wonderful.  They dressed it up pretty nicely with red wine and leeks and cut up steak and chicken sausage and whatever else they could find in the frig.  But it was wonderful.  I think it was one of the best Christmas dinners ever.  Yummilicious.  And there were no hours spent preparing it.  Half an hour.  And we all love it.  New tradition!

I heard two new family stories that will remain with me for a long time.  I’m working through them to find the nuggets to incorporate them into my life.  But they were gifts to me this Christmas.  One was a back story that filled in the gaps and holes of a story I’ve known for a long time.  The other was new.   They were both about my paternal grandparents.

When my dad was little, his paternal grandmother lived with them.  His mother was my grandfather’s second wife after my grandfather was widowed with three children.  So my grandmother raised 3 stepchildren and 2 of her own children in a house the size of a small apartment AND she had her mother-in-law living with her.  By all accounts, my great-grandmother was not the easiest person to live with either.  All accounts meaning my grandfather told me this one day.  I also happen to know that she was a person of fairly deep faith (because my father still pretty bitterly resents having to sit and read her Bible to her when she couldn’t see anymore … hehehe … he used to try to skip verses in the Psalms and she’d know right away 😉 ).  Just so you have some context.  So one day my grandmother was in the kitchen making dinner or something and fuming about something my grandfather had done or was doing or something and said to my great-grandmother (her mother-in-law), “When will men stop being so stubborn?”  and the story goes that my great-grandmother replied, “When women stop being so willful.”  Now, don’t reply to that … just let it sit with you for a while.  It’s pretty deep.

The other story is about my grandfather.  I’ve known this much for a long time … that one Christmas when my dad was young, my grandfather got grumpy about something, collected all his gifts and refused to open them until April.  Everytime my father got a little grinchy about Christmas or a birthday or any celebration, that story was hauled to explain it.  So I asked my father about that this week.  Why did his dad put all his gifts away that year?  My dad got a funny grin on his face and said, “Oh, I think he (my grandfather) was mad because he told everyone not to spend so much money on him. And he was making a point.”  We were all sitting around the table when that was said … LightHusband, LightGirl and LightBoy all turned and looked at me … AHA, that’s where you get it from!  My dad went on, “My father … from the first time he began earning money … always, scrupulously put 10% of his earnings into savings.  So he always had money set aside to help his family.  He didn’t think people should spend so much on him, but it should be spent on other things.”

My intangible gifts … I’ll be pondering them as I continue on my journey.  You’ll probably be reading more about these thoughts as we enter the new year, but I’ve been appreciating them in the Christmas afterglow.

My Best Christmas Gift
Dec 26th, 2007 by Sonja

My parents are here for the holiday. We’re all having a grand time enjoying each other’s company. We all sort of hang out together and laugh and talk. We’ve already enjoyed many memory gaffes. But that’s not my best Christmas gift.

We did Christmas morning in our traditional way. Sort of. When I was growing up, the kids got up first. We’d rattle around just enough to wake up my parents. Then we’d get our stockings from the kitchen table. Yes, the table. First of all … we heated with wood and had wood stoves, so Santa would have burned his nether regions if he’d come down our chimneys. So we very thoughtfully left our stockings on the table. I don’t know how he came into our house. As we got older and learned the truth (that Santa is Satan, I mean that Santa isn’t real) we just kept leaving stockings on the table. So, us kids would get our stockings, plus Mom and Dad’s and take them up to my parents’ room. We’d all sit on their bed and open the stockings. When I was growing up stocking gifts were wrapped in newspaper. My parents have a gift with stockings … they do their best work with stocking gifts. They are inventive and silly; thoughtful and whimsical. I think that is my Dad’s contribution to Christmas, but I’m not entirely certain.

After stockings, we have breakfast. Then we’d feed and water all the animals … chickens, geese, cows, horses, dogs, cats, sheep. Some of the favored animals would often get a special treat or special ration of grain or something. Load the wood bins for the day. The woodstoves did not get any special wood. Clean up the kitchen and be dressed in decent clothes.

After all of that, the unwrapping of the gifts would commence. We went one gift at a time … youngest to oldest. Everyone had to wait turns and watch each person unwrap so we all knew what everyone got. This eternally confounded my maternal grandfather. He managed to call every year when we were about 1/3 of the way finished to talk to us. Every year he was surprised that we weren’t finished. Every year … Surprise! What?? He was of the rip and tear all at once theory. We did not ascribe to that theory. It was funny. And we all always laughed.

So … I am still the first person awake every Christmas morning. Still. At 46. What is wrong with me? I first woke up at 4:15 and decided that was silly. So I went back to sleep. I woke again at 5:30 and that was the end of that. So I got up and made a carafe full of coffee (3 french press pots), emptied the dishwasher for LightGirl and sat in front of the lit Christmas tree in awe. But that wasn’t my best gift

LightGirl was the next person up at 6:30 so she joined me with some hot chocolate, then LightBoy for some hot chocolate. We had a few minutes together with our drinks looking at the tree. But that wasn’t my best gift.

LightMom and LightDad came downstairs and we opened stockings that had been left (as we do) on the kitchen table. But we do this in the family room. It was so much fun to have them participating the stockings again … as I wrote above … it is their gift. But that wasn’t it either.

We did breakfast, cleaned up. And began opening. We were most of the way through when I got a gift with a tag that read: “This made Mom cry, but it will make you laugh. To Sonja Love from Mom & Dad” LightHusband jumped to get his camera. LightMom looked funny and I was not certain I wanted to open this package. If it made my mom cry, I was fairly certain I might cry too … and just what was contained herein that made my mom cry on Christmas?? It was all too mysterious … and squishy as well.

Then it was revealed and we all dissolved into howls of laughter.

TWO stockings?  Awww ... Mom ... You shouldn't have!

The story goes like this: When I was a baby my mom knit me a stocking. It was the stocking I had all through my childhood. Until a small closet fire when I was about 10 years old. The fire was started by my little brother who was playing with matches. My stocking and my other brother’s stocking and other family things burned up. My mother burned her hand pretty badly, too. I think a lot of my dad’s things from his term of service in Alaska were destroyed. So the stockings were gone. Except for the brother’s who had started the fire. There is no justice. Oh wait. My mother was too busy by the time he came along to ever knit him a stocking. So now none of us had stockings. Maybe there was justice. But I mourned my stocking. I held no grudge, I just missed my stocking.

When I got married, I discovered that LightHusband had had the same stocking all his childhood that his mother had knit for him as a baby!! What are the chances? So my new mother-in-law knit me a matching stocking. I had a new treasure and I loved it because of it’s ties and significance.

When the babies started to come along in all of our siblings families I discovered that my mother had been hiding her light under a bushel all these years. My mother loved to knit! She became a knitting machine churning out tiny sweaters and hats and mittens for the grandchildren. Each one also got a personalized Christmas stocking. I don’t mean name either. She would change and modify the directions to make the stocking for each child personally. They are all beautiful. So are all the sweaters and hats and mittens. We have all treasured them.

Sometime less than 4 years ago, my mother surprised me with a replacement stocking for the one in my childhood. We can’t remember the exact year, but we know it was since the youngest of my nieces was born and she turned 5 this past June. But she forgot. We don’t know what happened … she just forgot that she’d done that. I didn’t. But then you never tell the recipient of a gift what you’re thinking. In my family of origin that principle gets carried out perhaps a little too far. You tell no one. We operate like the Dept. of Defense when it comes to Christmas. So my mother did not even mention this to LightHusband, because he would have known and reminded her.

So she planned and found the special wool (white angora) to make Santa’s beard. She knit away on their trip to Florida and back to visit my uncle this fall. She grinned happily when she read my philosophy on gifting on my blog. She was thrilled at her choice in gifts this year. She knew she had outdone herself. And … she had. Oh yes … she had.

She had outdone herself TWICE!! I am doubly blessed! So that is the story of my best Christmas gift … of 2007.

UPDATE – (written by visiting author LightMom) –

Once in a lifetime….I hope!

In the 50’s I started knitting Christmas Stockings for my nephews – nieces would arrive much later!
As our children were born (1961, 1963, 1nd 1965) I knit them what had become a favorite stocking with name, a Santa with angora beard, and crossed candy canes.

In the summer of 1969 with Sonja at camp and LightUncle1 visiting a friend, LightUncle2 (not quite 4) practiced lighting matches in the front closet of our home at Kent’s Corner. And, of course, the result was….fire! Fortunately for us the closet was lined with tongue and groove cedar boards and GrandPea and I were able to squelch the fire and throw much of the burning material out the door onto the lawn. Among the belongings that were too burned to save were Sonja and LightUncle2’s stockings. I suppose in the back of my mind I intended to replace them but ….it must have been w-a-a-y-y back!

LightUncle1 continued to use his stocking, and when his daughter was born in 2002 asked if I might knit one for her. I searched the internet and various knitting stores for the pattern, but it was not to be found. So, I did my best using LightUncle1’s as the model. He was satisfied, I was not. Since we are trying to get rid of the flotsam and jetsam that has accumulated over 45+ years, we are continually sorting through it all. And wa-la I found the original – now 50 year old – pattern.

So, I set about re-knitting LightNiece3’s stocking (I hadn’t liked the non-wool yarn I had used, either) and now (2004) one for her brother, LightNephew.

So, this Christmas I decided to start replacing the burned stockings and since we were due to spend Christmas with Sonja and family, hers would be for this year! So I set about the task, and a friend found me some faux angora. And it was actually completed before we boarded the train to D.C.

Sonja had written that she and her family were trying to move toward a less commercialized Christmas and she most wanted to give gifts that she made or were really relevent to the giver/givee. Ahh… I had the perfect gift!

So now…imagine my dismay when I walked in their home to find……………..all their stockings ‘hung with care..’ and one of them being a replacement stocking I had apparently knit around 2004 or 2005! I was crushed. This was to be my major gift to my daughter and it was now a mere ditto!

I decided I needed to ‘punt’. Instead of hanging the stocking after she went to bed Christmas Eve – my original plan – I wrapped it as a gift under the tree. The tag read, “love to Sonja from Mom and Dad. This will make your mother cry and you laugh.” I forewarned photographer son-in-law, LightHusband, to be ready with his camera.

And boy, did we laugh – the laughter went on for some time – we held our sides and wiped the tears and just let it roll. Even a ditto can be the best Christmas present ever!

Christmas Conversation
Dec 22nd, 2007 by Sonja

LightGirl “Mom, what do you want for Christmas?”

Me “I’d really like world peace. … but I’d settle for peace in the house.”

long pause complete with sardonic look on LightGirl’s face …

“I was thinking of something I could buy!”

“Because if you haven’t noticed this house is FILLED with stubborn people.

So. Is there anything I can … BUY?”

At which moment I was practically on the floor in laughter. That’s my daughter for you. Almost fourteen, full of herself, and tellin’ it like it is. The funny thing is that she’s usually dead on.

Our house … filled with stubborn people, attempting to live out the Kingdom, incarnation and all. And isn’t that really much of the problem with attaining world peace too? Our world, filled with stubborn people. Hmmm … kinda makes you think.

It’s Almost Christmas, Friday Five
Dec 20th, 2007 by Sonja

I haven’t played along with the RevGals Friday Five in a long, long time … but this one really caught my eye. So I thought I’d throw in my two cents for the day. Here’s the challenge from RevRodH:

I have debated with myself for weeks about today’s Friday Five.

* Self 1: It should be deep and theological.
* Self 2: But it’s almost Christmas, it should be fun and warm and sweet.
* Self 1: But your last Friday Five was sort of silly. You should show your more serious side.
* Self 2: You worry WAY too much!

So after consulting with my fourteen year old daughter, we’re going playful, pals o’ mine! I love stories, so I hope you’ll tell some about your favorite Christmas memories.

1. What was one of your favorite childhood gifts that you gave:

This was the best all time Christmas moment ever. I don’t remember our respective ages … but I think I was in my early teens (say 13 or 14 … about the age that LightGirl is now). My next brother was about to turn 11 or 12 and my youngest brother was about 10. So this is about my youngest brother. He gave his Christmas list to our mother as we all did. There were several items on it … as all of ours had, but nothing stood out very much. My other brother and I decided to pool our resources and get him one of the items on the list, but we didn’t think too hard about it. It was just one of the items. We bought it and felt kinda good about it, but we were not attempting to get the “best” one or anything. We wrapped it up and felt a little bad, because it was very small and it came from both of us. But it was costly, so we just hoped he would know that.

Now, what you have to know about my youngest brother is that he is very tall. He’s always been tall for his age and when he was young he was very gangly. And at this time in my childhood we didn’t have any money for first hand furniture … we had cast-offs and lived in an old Vermont farmhouse with insulation for wallpaper. It was pretty stark, but we were generally speaking well-fed and happy. We heated with wood so the livingroom was always warm around the woodstove.

I can still remember the moment that my brother opened that gift. It was over 30 years ago. But it is still crystal clear in my mind. I can see him and where he was sitting on that old green sofa … between the woodstove and the window. He was all folded up because it was low to the floor and he carefully pulled the Buck Knife from it’s box, cradled it in his hands upon his knees and said over and over again, “Buck. Knife. WOW!” His eyes were huge and it was all he could do. Stare at that knife, cradle it in his hands and gasp. In my memory this went on for about 15 minutes. More likely it was two or three. But it made a huge impression on me. We still tell the tale between us siblings with huge foolish grins on all of our faces, about the gift with unexpected rewards for all of us.

2. What is one of your favorite Christmas recipes? Bonus points if you share the recipe with us.

Christmas morning Candy Cane Bread … yummy sweet bread made in the shape of a candy cane braided around maraschino cherries and apricots … served warm with confectioner sugar icing on top. I’d post the recipe … but it’s long and complicated. Hmmm … I’ll think about a link to a .pdf document. I have to give credit to my mother-in-law for this tradition. I don’t know where it came from before her, but I love it … so does everyone but LightGirl. She gets to start her own tradition when she has her own family. Ha!

Oh … I couldn’t stand it … I “need” those extra points 😀 LOL.  Here is a link to download the recipe.

3. What is a tradition that your family can’t do without? (And by family, I mean family of origin, family of adulthood, or that bunch of cool people that just feel like family.)

Having a big tree … as I discovered this year when I proposed having a small, living tree and was thoroughly ridiculed for it. It’s become a family joke. LightHusband has taken to calling me Moses because I want a “burning bush” as he calls my proposal for a small living tree to go with our reduced Christmas. So, apparently, my family cannot go without a big tree with all … every last one of the ornaments out, every last year.

4. Pastors and other church folk often have very strange traditions dictated by the “work” of the holidays. What happens at your place?

Well, this is the first year in a long time that I have not been directly involved in anything churchy around Christmas. I kind of don’t know what to do with myself. My parents are coming to visit, but we realized too late that it should have been the other way around, we ought to have made plans to go to them. Eh … such is life.

5. If you could just ditch all the traditions and do something unexpected… what would it be?

Take my children and all the money we spend on Christmas and go to the local women’s shelter in January. When we get there, we’d sit down and find some families to befriend and walk with. I’m tired of Christmas and all of it’s pressure, both sacred and secular. It’s just too much. We ask too much. We do too much. We want too much. We don’t love enough. I’d want to love more. That’s it …

Phone Home
Dec 20th, 2007 by Sonja

Way back when … when was it now?

Oh yeah, back when I still had hope and faith in the political system of this country. That would be about 4 years ago. Maybe a little longer ago. It was back when Howard Dean’s campaign for president was gathering steam and before the powers that be in the Democratic party put their foolish heads together to decide that he was unfit. What a bunch of nincompoops. They chose John Kerry as the heir apparent. Because that was a good choice to run against George Bush. I said it then and I’ll say it now … idiots. So, it was late 2003 and I had some hope in our political system.

I joined a few of the grassroots political organizations that were popping up all over the place. I had hope that they might actually change some things around here. Iowa and then New Hampshire dashed my foolish hopes. And the election reminded me of harsh reality. But that’s another blog post.

In any case, I stuck with my memberships … but my activity was reduced to cynical and jaded readings of the e-mails that came through my in-box. One came through today from I usually just skim it in preview and delete them. But this one caught my attention. They are raising money to send phone cards to the troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea and elsewhere. Okay, you got me now. I’m a sucker for the troops. I may despise the war, but the troops are another story altogether. Being the wife of a disabled veteran and having been married to the Army for umpty-ump years … I know the drill.

So I clicked through to see where it would take me. It took me to their donations page which also had an introduction talking about phone cards for troops. To best of my knowledge they are rounding up donations which will then be used to purchase phone cards for our service men and women in foreign lands. It will also be used to bolster the rolls of Eh … okay. Two birds, one stone. I get it. But I’d rather just get phone cards, so I did a little bit of searching … very little. I found two places that you can get phone cards for service men and women serving abroad in far away places. One is through the military’s post exchange system. You have to be military or retired military to purchase here, but this is by far the best buy. And it will get the cards into the hands of the troops the quickest and most efficient method possible. But … there is the caveat. Second is through the USO’s (United Service Organization) Operation Phone Home and they will get cards to the service men and women very quickly as well.

So, if you still have some money to do a good deed may I gently suggest that we have many military families in this country who would love to speak with their fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters … well … you get the point. They hardly ever get to phone home and this would be a blessed gift of grace.

Military Card USO - Operation Phone Home

Standing Against the Tide
Dec 20th, 2007 by Sonja

I love the beach and the ocean. It’s always been a favored spot of mine. We haven’t been in a very, very long time. There was a time when we went, along with several other families, every October. It was an annual retreat to the Outer Banks. That has gone by the wayside now for a variety of different reasons, almost all of which point to a new season in our lives. I will have to find a new time and place to visit the ocean each year.

Stand against the wavesWhen I was a child one of my favorite things to do was to stand about knee deep or so and let the waves buffet me. I wanted to see how long I could stand before the outrushing tide swept the sand out from under my feet and I no longer had a foundation on which to plant myself. Could I curl my toes around enough sand to make a stand? Me against the elements! The horse she saith into the trumpets ha ha! And I played that game with myself for many long minutes, until the temptation of the waves and my brothers became too much and off we’d go to swim or build castles in the air or something equally delightful.

As an adult, I’ve tried this but it’s lost much of its charm. I’m stronger now and more adept. I can stand now in the face of all but the most outrageous waves. In fact, the waves that it takes to knock me down as an adult are really quite dangerous and I should not be standing out in them. The ocean holds other charms for me now.

I was reading through the blog-o-sphere this morning and came upon this at Bill Kinnon’s place:

One writer against Christmas went so far as to say that the shopkeepers for their own commercial purposes alone sustain Christmas Day. I am not sure whether he said that the shopkeepers invented Christmas Day. Perhaps he thought that the shopkeepers invented Christianity. It is a quaint picture, the secret conclave between the cheese-monger, the poulterer, and the toy-shop keeper, in order to draw up a theology that shall convert all Europe and sell some of their goods. Opponents of Christianity would believe anything except Christianity. That the shopkeepers make Christmas is about as conceivable as that the confectioners make children. It is about as sane as that milliners manufacture women.
— G. K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News, January 13, 1906.

Bill, in dry spot, was quoting the inimitable Chesterton. Fancy that. It kinda got me thinking though. I had a conversation yesterday with BlazingEwe about the nature of stuff and why we have so much. And why we think we have to have more. Why we like to shop, etc. We have these sorts of conversations regularly. Because we both know we have too much stuff and we feel assaulted by the messages to get more all the time. I commented on Bill’s post that shopkeepers might not have invented Christmas, but they surely feast upon it. Yes, they do.

This quote got me thinking about the ways in which we attempt to stand against the tide as adults. Chesterton is both pithily correct and yet, wrong. We’ve long known that in the aftermath of the Depression and WWII, the shopkeepers did get together and consciously (or perhaps not) decide on the path of planned obsolescence in order to create markets and economies and desires for their products in the masses. It’s a very symbiotic relationship and this did not happen overnight, nor was it done in a vacuum without the consent and knowledge of said masses. We may like to pretend we didn’t know, but we know. We’ve bought into it on some level.

So what have we done? Over the years, the decades, the generations, we’ve allowed the powers and principalities to tell us and we’ve told each other that the way to express our love for each other is to buy bigger and better gifts for each other. We’ve done this. No one else has. We can point to the manufacturers, the advertisers, the shopkeepers, etc. But in the end, we have met the enemy and he is us. Gifts keep getting bigger. Credit card debt gets deeper. The advertising gets gnarlier. First it was radios. Then it was televisions. Now it’s big screen televisions complete with play stations. Or complete kitchen makeovers. The giving is enormous. There is jewelry, clothing, automobiles. Using one’s credit cards will allow one to compete for prizes such as the perfect gift (that will cause the special someone to swoon). ( Lest you think I’ve been watching too much television, a good friend has been working retail this year and many of my examples come from her.)

Now before you think I’m a grinch (though I am 😀 ), I don’t have anything against gifts to express our love. I just wonder if we haven’t derailed a bit. I wonder if there isn’t some other way that we can express how we feel about our loved ones. I remember reading Little House in the Big Woods with LightGirl. And in that series Laura Ingalls Wilder revealed an entirely different cultural expectation for love and how it was expressed. It was seen over and over again, not just during their several Christmas celebrations, but during the thick and thin of their lives. And … no, I’m not advocating a return to the prairie. I’m just thinking about how they expressed themselves to one another. The gifts they gave each other were rarely physical. When they were, the gift had a special significance that revealed something about the recipient’s character or the relationship between the giver and recipient. The gifts revealed a level of thought and care that are rarely seen these days.

As I reflected on Bill’s GKC quote, the things that have been disturbing me about Christmas giving were put to rest. I’m relatively unconcerned about whether or not a gift is handmade. I don’t care about how much or how little is spent. I want to know that the giver spent time and care thinking about me. Just as I spend time and care thinking about the people that I give gifts to. Giving is akin to a spiritual ritual for me and I don’t enter into it lightly. It is one of the places where I continue to curl my toes into the sand and attempt to stand against the tide. I still can’t keep my feet. I get knocked around fairly regularly by the waves. But I keep getting back up and trying again. It feels just about as useless as standing against the ocean, but she saith into the trumpets … ha ha!

Good Gifts
Dec 8th, 2007 by Sonja

It’s that “most wonderful time of the year” again. And we’re all pushing and shoving to get good gifts for each other. The malls are filled, although each year we hear gloom and doom about how they are not filled “enough.” The economic predictions are always grey and cloudy. I have to wonder who is in bed with whom when that happens.

LightHusband’s company holiday party was the other evening. The event happened to coincide with a need for having my hair done. Really. It did. So I went to my favorite hairdresser for just a cut and style this time … no color or anything fancy. The salon is in a mall nearby and on my way out, I paused in a department store to purchase a few items which were necessary for the evening. Okay, pantyhose. I hardly ever wear it anymore and I didn’t have any.

Once, I’d finally located the goods in the store in question, I made my selections and stood in line to make my purchase. I was third. Then I was second. At first I was slightly annoyed by this turn of affairs because I was all rushy and needing to be on my way. But then I started to breath and watch the unfolding event in front of me. I was fascinated.

She was a smallish woman in her early 30’s. There wasn’t anything very remarkable about her as she stood at the jewelry counter. Nothing except the stacks of boxes of cheesy jewelry which she’d painstakingly selected from the rummage of the final markdown table. I sighed and rolled my eyes at the dozen or so boxes of necklaces and bracelets; all of them cheap and none of them particularly noteworthy. All were on sale, of course. While each item didn’t cost more than $5.00, she ended up spending over one hundred and fifty dollars on cheap plastic jewelry. As the clerk carefully rang each item up and replaced the cover on the box, I noticed that she pulled a neatly folded sheaf of papers from her purse. Within the sheaf was a flyer from the store with coupons for $$ off in consideration of $$ spent. But the sheaf itself was a marvel to behold. It was an Excel spreadsheet of gift beneficiaries … one would assume for the cheap plastic jewelry. I studied the spreadsheet from the appropriate stranger distance and thought of all the questions I wanted to ask this very tidy woman over coffee. I peeked into her purse and noticed it was very organized as well.

I’ve found myself wondering about the very tidy woman and her jewelry gift purchases over the last couple of days. She and the clerk, and eventually me too were drawn into some minimal conversation. Those of us in line were gently admonished to have extra patience for long lines during the holiday time. I was fascinated, so I needed no patience.

I’ve been thinking though, about the gifts we give each other during this “wonderful time of the year.” And what we might really want from those we love. It seems to me that what we always long for from our friends, lovers, loved ones, and family is time spent with them. We don’t think we have that to give, so instead we’re willing to spend hours on Excel spreadsheets organizing our gift giving, more hours rummaging through final markdown tables for cheap, plastic jewelry, still more wrapping it up in funky wrapping paper and then boxes to send to it’s final destination.

Oh, what’s that you say? You’re not that organized or obsessed. You do not spend hours on Excel spreadsheets. You, or course, would never buy cheap, plastic jewelry for anyone. Oh well, then, I’m not talking to you, am I?

Or … am I?

How much time do you spend on your gift organizing and purchasing? We all have some method to our madness. We all do something to organize ourselves and plan in some way. So we do something. We all have the same 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year to our lives. Now this is not another mid-Advent polemic on doing away with Christmas gift giving, shopping, buying, or etc. Just wait to see where I’m headed, okay.

I was also thinking about this in terms of my recent Thanksgiving blowout extravaganza. It took me three days to recover from that. But as I look back over it, I realize it was a huge gift to my mother-in-law and father-in-law to have their family all together in one place for several days. They enjoyed it enormously and it was a blessing to them.

It was a blessing to all of us in many ways. It was to me, too. I had the gift of time with my nieces and nephew and my sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law. We all had that. My sister-in-law with whom the road has been rocky at times and I had a wonderful visit. She gave me the gift of her decorating abilities and I gave to her time with her family.

There were some funny moments though. One of the things I wanted to give my sister-in-law (LightHusband’s sister) was time to relax and enjoy her mornings. She works and gets 4 children out the door to school every morning. So I thought her time here might be a good time to sit, breath, and relax. Instead, every morning she kept after me to mop the kitchen floor. She wanted to know where the supplies and mop were. “I want to mop your floor!” was the declaration. “I mop my floor every day.” It was said without judgement or animosity, but with need. Finally, one morning in a tiny, pleading voice, “I need to mop … it’s how I wake up in the morning.” And, I burst into laughter; so did she. I told her that I had been trying to give her some time to relax; she, on the other hand, had been trying to give me free housecleaning (and she legitimately *does* clean to wake up). Her normal morning is so busy and regimented that sitting still just doesn’t make it onto her radar.

So I’ve been thinking about all the gifts we give each other. The tangibles and the intangibles. How we wrap them up with love and time and worry and care. Some people put theirs into an Excel spreadsheet and time spent rummaging through the markdown jewelry table. Others put theirs into carefully handcrafting gifts. Still others put theirs into hours spent in Google searches. But in the end I think it works out to the same time … or so. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Then we wrap those gifts up with paper and love, bows and care.

I wonder though about the good gifts we try to give each other and the good gifts from our Creator above. I’ve been pondering that. S/He gave us the gift of presence. The gift of God with Us, Emmanuel. It had never been done before and has not been done since. Or, really has been ever since if we consider the Holy Spirit. So those gifts, carefully wrapped and lovingly bowed, under our trees each year are like the shadows in Plato’s cave of the gift lovingly wrapped and given so long ago. It causes me to consider that the thing we truly seek after with one another and with God is not presents, but presence. We seek after each other’s presence, we long for it. Our children desire more of it, our spouses, our friends, our families. God even desires more of it from us and we from Him.

But that is not what we give each other. Sadly, we use up that time and energy on other things that we have declared more precious. I wonder what would happen if we began to give the present of presence? What other good gifts might come of that?

Seeing Myself More Clearly
Jan 24th, 2007 by Sonja

I’ve been lurking and occasionally (sp?) commenting at Emerging Women lately. The blog title probably speaks for itself. I went out and began searching down the blogs of some of the women who post there because I’ve come to enjoy and value their perspectives and wanted to see their homes. I found this paragraph at the first home I visited:

When people want someting of me that I do not want to give, I react. React with aversion and anxiety; words like, “flight,” “get out of my inner sanctum” and more visceral feelings difficult to name rise up, and I fight the old crap within me that hinders me from calmly setting boundaries without feeling awry and dismayed, gruilty or angry for having to set them at all. I instinctively push people away when I feel they want something from me that I am not comfortable sharing or giving, when I feel their emotions, desires or needs intrude on my psychological space. Peace is disrupted and I am furious; how could so-and-so dare disrupt my peace with their feelings or perceived needs that conflict with my feelings and perceived needs? I become more angry over the disrupton of peace than whatever substantive issue triggered my internal dissonance in the first place. And then the self-hatred for being so easily thrown off course, for not being enlightened or spiritual enough to be what I intellectually understand.

I read that passage two or three times before my breathing slowed down. How on earth could this woman who I have never met and who does not even know my name have written so clearly about me? Well, the reasonable answer is that she is writing about herself. But somehow she is also writing about me.

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