Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

It's been a slightly different Christmas eve than I'd planned. Funny, how plans often happen that way. Even the most orderly day often bends to the will or whim of others--or the poor planning of the self.

I didn't get to either of the Children's Christmas Eve Services this night. I am blue about it. I love the rich sweetness of watching the children's faces lit by candlelight while they sing gently, all the while knowing the blood, sweat and tears that went on behind the scenes to achieve such serenity. It makes their gift better, knowing how hard they (and all the adults involved) worked.

I love watching them making memories that will last forever. I know grownups in their 50s who still talk with genuine yet wry affection of their years of service in "The Cross", formed by children and their candles. My daughter insists, now two years away from Grace, on attending both services with a myriad of friends. They parse each and every detail of the service, which is rarely as good as when they were involved.

Carols are added, taken away. Different groups of children perform different songs that last year. Yet much of the core music remains the same for years and years, such that Kindergarteners often have very little to memorize 9 years later as they sing in their last service as Eighth Graders.

Children sing solos, quavering or strong and clear. Bells ring, usually far more gloriously than the Adult Bell choir is able to manage, arrayed in our feeble middle-agedness. Even the little Pre-Ks participate, memorize songs, sit still, take it all in.

There are those who feel this is a foolish tradition in this time of No Child Left Behind. The preparation for these services takes many hours of classroom time during December. Perhaps the time would be better spent memorizing times tables than memorizing Christmas carols. How can we send children up to the local high school where they must compete against others from the rich town schools where high math skills are honed and most of the children end up in the top math honors course, rather than the middle where most of our children go?

Dare I say that I think my daughter's time was exceedingly well-spent in those three Decembers she spent at Grace? I can certainly reel off a plethora of academic skills learned in choral performance (improvement in reading comprehension, working with symbols, math skills, problem solving, the importance of listening and following directions, to name a few).

Just as important to me are other skills learned that, while not strictly academic, are absolutely central in successful lives (be those lives academic, business or personal): cooperation, self-discipline, hard work, service to others, and the joy of a job well-done. Hokey? Absolutely. Essential? Completely.

I think these Christmas Eve services are ideally suited to teach such skills. But there's an added bonus. These services aren't all about us, or all about the children, or all about what they are learning while participating in them. These services are a gift. They are worship. They are about God coming into this world as a small child. Or children. With voices of angels that, for a short time, stop asking for presents and, instead, give one.


Friday, December 21, 2007

No flow

It's hard to find time to write in the midst of holiday prep. Not that I've done much holiday prep. But I've had very good intentions that seem to be taking up an inordinate amount of time. I believe, but cannot confirm, that Carl and I will go choose a Christmas tree in a few short moments.

That is the plan.

Of course, we have planned on numerous other occasions to do so, without success. And it's been on my own to-do list for weeks. Without success. In December, I feel such a sense of accomplishment when I slog through the molasses of holiday life to finish even the smallest of tasks. Good thing molasses is sweet. Sort of.

I do love Advent and Christmas. I love the waiting part, even though I'm not particularly adept at waiting. In fact, I'm darn lousy at it. While I have learned patience at the knees of master teachers (my children, who have required my continuous acquisition of patience for almost 20 years now), unless I have to be patient, I am not.

Waiting for the bar exam results, again almost 20 years ago now, was actually agony spread across weeks. Even though I knew the results wouldn't be coming until October or so, each day I woke thinking "Today could be the day!" Even while working, part of my mind would be on that day's mail arrival. Even the evening wasn't a relief, as I'd just start to think about the next day's mail.

Perhaps I'm a bit of an obsessive person.

Anyway, back to waiting. I enjoy some parts of it. I love anticipation. That sort of shivery excitement that's not just all fun, but requires you to give something in return. An emotional investment of some sort, or thoughtful thinking.

Would that be as opposed to unthoughtful thinking?

OK. True confessions. It's now several hours later. We do, indeed, have a tree dripping in the front porch. And, while I'm pleased that the waiting for tree is over, I am not pleased that I had to interrupt writing to make it so. I am terrible at making a seamless transition back into whatever it was that I was saying. Because of that, I have to announce that I've been gone and come back. Otherwise, it feels to me like I'm not telling the truth, somehow. And I'm sure that readers will be able to tell, even if I don't.

But, by the time I've done that, it's impossible for me to get back to where I was. Anticipating. Enjoying something that's hard. Sigh. It's gone now. And none of this is what I'd planned on writing about, which would be that little Drudge Report on the NYTimes holding back on a negative McCain story. Maybe tomorrow.

Flow is such an interesting concept. Some people are so accomplished at starting and stopping that they do not mind interruptions. Others of us need oceans of time to float our rafts of thought down. If deprived, the output becomes a bit bumpy for all concerned.

I'm done now. The ride's a bit too bumpy for me. We'll try again tomorrow.

Liz :-)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hurry Up!

There's a new genetic study out that indicates human evolution may be speeding up. I find this reassuring for a number of reasons. Most important? I'm sure that our DNA will quickly figure out how patently unfair it is that middle-aged women grow fat for no discernible reason while middle-aged men get another 10 years to pack it in before they pack it on.

Running a close second, I am pleased that we humans will evolve quickly because George Bush and his minions might be run out town before sundown, as surely our high tolerance for Republican rigidity, duplicity and just plain stupidity will be among the first traits phased out by the process.

If not, we may have to put up with op-ed writers like David Brooks for the rest of his natural born life, God help us. Bush Boy Brooks thinks the war is over--or will be by the election. It is impossible to determine from his columns what, exactly, informs him to hold this opinion. But shaping the news to fit his views allows him to craft a whole new world out there in electionland.

The surge worked? Americans don't care about the war because polls show they aren't as concerned about terrorism as they were post-9/11? Voters are more concerned about domestic issues because it is now, effectively, a post war election? Huckabee is a "pragmatic gubernatorial Republican"? And my favorite line " The world still has its problems, but it no longer seems to be building toward some larger crisis."

Everything's all better now, folks. No more causes for concern. Bush has handled the world just fine for the past 7 years, and now he's ready to turn it over to a domestic wizard like Mike Huckabee. Here's a guy so on the ball that the day after the National Intelligence Estimate was released, he merrily confessed to knowing nothing about it. In his sermons, he preached that Adam and Eve were real live people. And he believes that history proves that gay marriage will be the end of civilization.

The end of civilization? No, hon. The end of civilization approaches not because of gay marriage but because a proud nation like the US has stooped to not only torturing prisoners with obscene tools like a waterboard, but hiding its illegal activities by erasing the evidence of same.

Civilization is far more likely to be truly in danger when governments believe that the ends justify the means. Civilization truly suffers when governments believe that they are above the law, be that law of its own country or international law. Civilization is truly threatened when citizens can no longer rely on their government to respect and uphold values central to our nation, such as protecting human rights.

The surge didn't work. The war is far, far from over, by any estimate. The latest Gallup poll show that the war continues to be the top issue of concern for Americans. And a candidate who doesn't even follow the news of the day cannot possibly be called "pragmatic". But other than those small details, David Brooks was completely accurate.

Evolution can't come soon enough.


Friday, December 07, 2007

Friday's Feast - 7 December 2007

What was the last game you purchased?

No earthly idea. Probably the card game "Flux". Annie and I like card games. We like games, generally speaking. But it's very hard to persuade anyone else in the house to play with us. Jonathan's usually busy playing with a screen somewhere, and Carl's just too busy.

Thank goodness for family vacations. We can almost always persuade my dad and my nieces to play cards with us. Even Uncle Dave played at Thanksgiving.

Name something in which you don’t believe.

I don't believe that Jesus is the only pathway to some sort of positive afterlife, or even a positive during-life. I believe that there are many paths to God.

If you could choose a celebrity to be your boss, who would you pick?

Hmm. Eye candy or supposed personality? I would certainly enjoy looking at George Clooney, though I'm not sure how much work I would get done staring at him. The whole keeping pigs as pets thing I might find a bit daunting, though. George would provide the added bonus of sharing my political views.

Main Course
What was a lesson you had to learn the hard way?

The truth will, in fact, set you free. Because lying is always a short-term solution that screws things up in the end. And every person in your life deserves the truth delivered with good intent. Except when someone thinks they look really spiffy in that shirt that you think makes them look 30lbs overweight and they didn't ask for your opinion. Then keep your mouth shut.

Describe your idea of the perfect relaxation room.

There are so many possibilities. A room I actually frequent on occasion which is darn relaxing is my massage therapist's room. I see her a few times a year (I really need to find someone who doesn't work 300 miles from Oak Park) and I love her place. Soft lighting, good smells, suns all over her walls, massage muzak--and the best massages on the planet. The relaxation lasts a long time.

Otherwise, I'd choose a room facing water, surrounding on most sides by trees and hills. Mountains would be good, too. But water is a must. West-facing is ideal, for viewing sunsets. Big comfy chairs for knitting or reading, commensurate light to meet those same needs. A fireplace is always good--and a cool breeze (artificial or real) during the summer would be most wonderful. Uncluttered decor. The external view and possibilities for grand internal views are the most important parts of the relaxation room, for me.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Several Items of Interest

Thing 1. In case you don't think universal health care is an issue whose time has come. Over 40 million people skip or skimp on health care each year in the US because they can't afford it. The CDC report contains other scary statistics such as only 1/3 of children living below the poverty line in 2005 didn't visit a dentist. 19 million adults were unable to purchase needed prescription medication. And we call this a civilized country.

Thing 1a. And any successful universal health care package needs to mandate participation, per my candidate John Edwards' plan. If I've digested my information properly, that's because insurance coverage is only affordable if it is insuring both low and high risk categories. If you don't mandate insurance participation, then the low risk folks will opt out, leaving insurance to cover only those with high risk. High risk costs more. And that cost will be spread out over those less people who cost more.

If everyone must pay, then it is more likely that everyone can afford it and then everyone can be covered. If you are a nerdy type who'd like to explore this much further than I am capable of doing, go here. Please note that Obama's universal health plan does NOT mandate participation.

Thing 2. The President is planning to veto the latest energy bill poised to pass in the House. Why? Because it will hurt Big Business and cost them money. The bill includes plans to raise taxes on oil companies (currently enjoying record profits for a number of years now) and to require 15% usage of renewable energy sources throughout the country by 2020 (in 13 years!).

Bush and his cronies can't abide these reasonable and sensible measures as paths toward less costly oil and less use overall. They also can't stand the notion of raising fuel efficiency in cars by 40% by 2020. Funny thing, that fuel efficiency issue. Has technology moved so slowly since 1985 that fuel efficiency simply could not have been improved over these past 20 plus years? Because CAFE set the standard that year of 27.5 MPG and it hasn't been changed since.

As we've noted in the past, my friends, it's all about money. And lots of it.

Thing 3. Think voting isn't important? None of the issues really affect you? Think again, women of child-bearing age. Did you know that both Romney and Huckabee's positions appear to support a ban on birth control and other contraception? Any politician who supports life as beginning at conception rather than implantation is most likely saying that they do not support birth control. And these are the two candidates most likely to win the Republican nomination.

I do not feel it is Chicken Little-ness of me to announce: the sky is falling, the sky is falling!


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Snowy Evening

It's beautiful outside this evening. Snow thickly falling, quiet, quiet. I love the juxtaposition of snow at night, the bright and the dark. When I grew up in Michigan, where stars not only existed but were seen on a regular basis, a crisp evening with sparkling stars overhead and snowy swirling and twinkling below was a foretaste of heaven. The occasional moonlight ski was a treat to be savored.

There were moonlit morning skis, too. I remember getting up early with my dad to ski before he went to work. This must have been when I was home as an adult, finishing my second year of law school while Carl was working in Chicago. Being anything but a morning person, dragging myself out of bed for early am workouts has never been my thing. But having company while skiing is far more enjoyable than my solitary daily jaunts on the concrete paths of Oak Park.

So I'd climb out of bed, mumbling and shivering, emulating my years of teenage gruffness and complaining about being cold and tired. And we'd drive over to local recreation area. Proud Lake or Kensington Park were the usual haunts, though my memories of morning-dark skis are all at Proud Lake.

Proud Lake had those stands of pines one often sees, set straight as soldiers for row after row. I think I remember that those were often planted during the Depression by Civilian Conservation Corps workers. I've skied in those kinds of stands throughout Michigan with great delight. But it was deep and dark in those woods on those mornings, even with a strong moon shining on us. I was always a bit spooked by them, and happy to be back into the less thickly wooded deciduous forest areas.

There were animals about and, if we had time and inclination, we'd stoop to decipher the prints. Deer, of course, though deer were far less plentiful at that time. Rabbits and mice and other more esoteric wildlife, like foxes, were often noted. My favorite denizens of the woods had no footprints: the owls. Sometimes heard, rarely seen, always suspected.

The snow wasn't usually great on those jaunts. This was mid 1980s, not the huge snow dumps of the 70s. I remember many slippery skis with ice-riven tracks. And I remember more than a few sticky skis with long stretches of tracks caked with mud. But the company was pleasant, and the ambiance most lovely, even on the coldest or iciest or muddiest of morns.

I miss those skis. :-)