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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Simple Pleasures (300 Words)

(I've decided to see what I can say in that magical 300 words that writers talk about so much...so, here it is...300 words exactly not counting this explanation)

I don’t mind letting the dog out at 5 o’clock in the morning this week, when it has been relatively frigid.  For this to make sense, there are three things that are important to know…

First, I have low-level heat intolerance.  For this reason, I sleep in shorts and a T-shirt no matter the temperature so I don’t wake up too warm in the middle of the night feeling generally unwell.  Second, I use a twin-sized electric blanket on my queen-sized bed because I’m too cheap to replace it.  For a number of reasons, I don’t spend money easily on myself.  Third, I am not usually in charge of taking the dog out at night, that job falls to my husband.  Whenever he is out of town, however, the responsibility falls to me.  

Add these things together and you have an under-dressed groggy person standing on the back steps in the freezing cold because she did not have the wherewithal to grab a robe.  So, I stand there, shivering and looking at the stars, listening to the silence of a winter’s evening.  Our house is in front of a cemetery and so night time is a muted silence that reminds me of living in the country, except different.  It is a beautiful moment, despite the cold that makes me shiver to my very bones.  It is so peaceful that I do not mind the terrible cold for those few quiet moments.

Once I move back indoors and upstairs, I am enfolded softly into a warm and toasty bed that erases the cold in that delicious sinking feeling that I’m not sure I can replicate in any other way.  Except maybe a hot bath.

So, I don’t really mind letting the dog out at 5 o’clock in the morning this week…

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

No Snow in Africa

I listen to a lot of Christmas carols this time of year; from Thanksgiving onward, it’s all I ever have on.  I have a Christmas station on Pandora, I can stream the radio station that I listen to in my car, and I even have an mp3 player that has nothing but carols on it that I unpack with my decorations.  The reason for this is simple – when the crunch of grading and the end of the semester comes, it’s the perfect background music.  Because all the songs (for the most part) are familiar, it is easy to tune them out.  But when I need a mental break from reading journals and papers, it’s ALWAYS a song that I know.   This method would not work for everyone and I try very hard not to foist my listening habits off on other people (except when I find fun songs like “The Christmas Can-Can” by Straight No Chaser), because I know that it would annoy a great number of people who are already stressed and busy themselves.  In the end, we all have different ways of coping and I’d rather my method not create more need for coping by others.

So, I love Christmas carols.

One of the interesting results of listening to them a lot, however, is that I find myself over-analyzing the lyrics and there are a number of them that sort of drive me crazy.  It likely doesn’t help that I’m already a little crazy this time of year.  I thought, however, it might be cathartic to share these irritations with my dedicated readers and perhaps purge myself of them in some way…

Here they are, in no particular order.

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Well, tonight thank God it's them Instead of you.   Wow.  I love being lectured by Christmas music right after I’ve put a new, unwrapped toy in the Toys for Tots bin, dropped money in the red bucket, and delivered my non-perishable canned goods and my Angel Tree presents.   Other than that, this one bothers me for a number of reasons (though I can appreciate the attempt to raise awareness of the plight of others as we spend too much money on presents).  Do they know it's Christmas time at all?   Life for many in Africa truly is difficult, but the idea that poverty and hunger breed ignorance about global holidays (that have been somewhat taken over in the secular world) is a little irritating.  And unless they are Christians or taken in by the secular side of the holiday, why would they really care that it is Christmas anyway?   Also, it actually DOES snow in Africa in the mountains.   So there.

“An Old Christmas Card” – Why I know you must have looked through thousands of cards / To find that wonderful poem that still brings a tear to my eyes – BUT WHAT WAS THE POEM!?!   It’s like the Christmas version of Tenacious D when he sang a song which is not the greatest song in the world, but just a tribute.  Except not funny.

“I’ll Be Home For Christmas” – This one changes depending on who is singing it, but one of the versions contains the phrase presents on the tree, which has always bothered me.  Unless you’re getting a lot of jewelry (not a bad thing, mind you), you’d best be careful putting presents ON the tree.  How about ‘under’ or even ‘round’ the tree?  The syllables are right, the rhythm is intact, and it makes a lot more sense.

 “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” – This whole song is creepy to me, but I’m trying to limit this analysis to a lyric here or there that stands out to me as being contradictory, nonsensical, or just plain silly.  So, while the entire song is a duet of her saying “No” and him pressuring her to say “Yes,” the line that really ruins it for me is, Say, what's in this drink. The song was written in 1944, so I’m sure it was much more innocent then – but, still, it’s just creepy.

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” – As the chain of information travels from the night wind to the lamb to the shepherd boy to the king, the solution to the problem of the baby’s cold is to bring him silver and gold – because THOSE will keep little Jesus warm.  Then again, we won’t even talk about how there wouldn’t have been flocks in the fields (and certainly not lambs) in December anyway.  That, however, is a whole other story.

“(Baby,) Please Come Home for Christmas” – This is the fastest story of an unexplained turn-around in fortunes.  In the first stanza, the sad and lonely narrator tells us that (usually) he [has] no friends / To wish [him] greetings once again.  In the very next stanza, however, we learn that friends and relations / send salutations.  Somehow, he managed to meet people and make friends in the time it took him to sing five lines.  And they still had time to send him cards.

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” – Now, while the title of this may be true, there’s one line that has always bothered me.  I have yet to meet anyone that has marshmallows for toasting at Christmas time.  Are we supposed to do so in the fireplace?  Or build a fire outside in the cold?  Now, what the line SHOULD be – so that the rhythm is right and the rhyme is preserved -- is 'chestnuts for roasting.'  I don’t know many people who do this either, but at least there’s a precedent set in another song.  Back to the marshmallows, though, if you decide you want some and you toast them outside where it's cold, I recommend taking some silver and gold with you.

So, let’s keep singing and loving our carols and running in from other rooms when we get to Fiiiive Gol-Den Riiiings, but I will continue to hear these little lines that are like a slightly off-key note in the musical tableaux that is Christmas celebration through song.

I am Just Another Blogger, and I think way too much about some things….


Monday, December 13, 2010

An Open Christmas Letter...

This is an open letter to all of those for whom Christmas has been tainted by the overwhelming social pressure to conform to forced generosity that seems to darken the act of giving with the rot of obligation.

It is to those for whom Christmas is borne from a religion that does not speak to the heart, though the story is a beautiful one of shining deeds of love and wisdom in a bygone time.

It is to those for whom days become irritatingly counted and shortened by the joyous displays that come to us when the days are still warm and the leaves are still dancing on late summer breezes.

It is for those who find the season the most painful time of the year for these reasons and for countless others.  My message is simple, but it comes from a heart that has learned to look past all of this to find the small joys and the deep warmth that can be all around us despite the cold days, the cold commercialism, the cold rush for the latest purchase, the cold bustle of days growing shorter even as the list of stresses grows longer.

Brush these disconnects aside and what is left...

Christmas is love; it is a time for family and warmth, for friends and laughter, for good cheer and good wishes.  I will forever believe that the holiday spirit can sink into even the bluest of hearts and so this is my Christmas message to those who need greater words of warmth, of happiness, of comfort, and of good wishes…

You have the power to touch lives; I know this because you have touched mine.  Each day I spend in this world is made brighter because you are a part of it.  The sun shines brighter, the snow is more beautiful, and the smiles come more willingly.  Friendship in all its myriad forms is one of the most powerful gifts we can both give and receive, and I am honored to call you one, even in passing, and I know I am not alone.  The love between you and your dearest friends is an amazing thing – two people who can be across the world, across the street, or across the room and share so much using whatever means are available and making them come alive.

Those who love you are never alone…for even when you are lost in a busy store or a thousand tasks, you are always in their hearts.  You are in thoughts and, for some, the arbitrary lines between family and friend are forever blurred.  Your friendship brings smiles to faces even though you may never see them.  The thought of you warms a heart, cheers a dark evening, brightens a snowy day.  Christmas, then, is 'just another reason' to remember all of those who have touched our lives and celebrate them.

In light of these thoughts, I will share my good wishes for you...

May the blue in your heart find red and green and the silver of a shining star. May your days be full of sunshine and blue skies…and should it snow, may a snowflake stay on the tip of your nose until you cannot help but smile.  May you feel the Christmas spirit you so richly deserve.  May you know that you are loved, that you have touched lives, and that each day you draw breath is cause for celebration.  Each day you spend on this earth is a day that brings someone – numerous someones – joy.  May this thought be what cuts through the darkness and may you know, now and always, that the darkness need never overwhelm your heart because you are, to me and countless others, a blessing.  You are the greatest gift.

Merry Christmas.