Saturday, December 31, 2011

Another Year Slips Away

Whoa....where did the week between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve go?  Days whiz by so fast, I strain to keep up mentally. The holidays are all but over for another year although the decorations remain, waiting patiently to be wrapped up and packed away.

January is on the way; a favorite month for me because of a sense of starting anew. What will the New Year bring?

Tonight we've no particular plans. Some years, I've turned in before the stroke of midnight but this year feel energetic enough to hang in there to watch the fireworks spew forth from the Space Needle (turning 50 years old this year!). Denny bought a bottle of champagne earlier today unbeknownst to me and has it chilling in the fridge. When I went out this afternoon to do a few errands, I bought a bottle of bubbly Italian Prosecco. Now we've two bottles; which one to drink tonight will be our major decision.

The house is empty; all the visitors from Houston returned home and Laura back to Spokane. The house is quiet. The cat sleeps peacefully. The heater turns on and then turns off. There are few sounds. Quiet.

A View Forward and Back
I don't like resolutions much but I'm hoping for favorable states of being in 2012: good health, energy, creativity, peacefulness, and fulfillment. All are within reach through that window on the future that reflects back at us with its mystery and magic.

Blessings for the New Year, 2012.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Memories of Amahl and the Night Visitors

This painting, The Adoration of the Magi, by Hieronymus Bosch from the 15th century was apparently a significant inspiration for Gian Menotti, the composer of Amahl and the Night Visitors. The opera in one act was commissioned by NBC in 1951 and was the first opera specifically composed for television.

Amahl and the Night Visitors was a favorite of my Mom, the story as much as the music. I grew up with an old LP record of Amahl  that we played at Christmastime. As a young girl, she took me to a screening of the movie in the early 1960's in New York City. How she got tickets, I never bothered to ask. In 2001 we saw a live matinee performance at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. Like Mom, the story is the magic of Amahl.

Place: Near Bethlehem
Time: The first century, just after the birth of Christ
Amahl, a disabled boy who can walk only with a crutch, has a problem with telling tall tales and, occasionally, lying. He is sitting outside playing his shepherd's pipe when his mother calls for him. After much persuasion, he enters the house but his mother does not believe him when he tells her there is an amazing star "as big as a window" outside over their roof.

Later that night, Amahl's mother weeps, praying that Amahl not become a beggar. After bedtime , there is a knock at the door and the mother tells Amahl to go see who it is. He is amazed when he sees three splendidly dressed kings (the Magi). They tell the mother and Amahl they are on a long journey to give gifts to a wondrous child and they would like to rest at their house, to which the mother agrees. The mother goes to fetch firewood, and Amahl seizes the opportunity to speak with the kings. King Balthazar answers Amahl's questions about his life as a king and asks what Amahl does. Amahl responds that he was once a shepherd, but his mother had to sell his sheep. Now, he and his mother will have to go begging. Amahl then talks with King Kaspar, who is childlike, eccentric, and a bit deaf. Kaspar shows Amahl his box of magic stones, beads, and licorice, and offers Amahl some of the candy.The mother returns. Amahl is told to go fetch the neighbors so the kings may be fed and entertained properly.
After the neighbors have left and the kings are resting, the mother attempts to steal for her son some of the kings' gold that was meant for the Christ Child. She is thwarted by the kings' page. When Amahl wakes to find the page grabbing his mother, he attacks him. Seeing Amahl's weak defense of his mother and understanding the motives for the attempted theft, King Melchior says she may keep the gold as the Holy Child will not need earthly power or wealth to build his kingdom. The mother says she has waited all her life for such a king and asks the kings to take back the gold. She wishes to send a gift but has nothing to send. Amahl, too, has nothing to give the Child except his crutch. When he offers it to the kings, his leg is miraculously healed. With permission from his mother, he leaves with the kings to see the child and give his crutch in thanks for being healed.

(from Wikipedia)

Christmas Blessings!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Guide You Safely Through the Wild

I'm missing my Mom so much this Christmas; more than I did last year when her death was so new. Funny how the deep longing for her presence is so much more acute this holiday season. My eyes well up quickly, the emotions just below the surface ready to bubble up at any moment.

Listening to Mom's Christmas choir tapes provides a sure-fire on switch for me to let loose the sadness inside me. The other night we listened to a  recording of  her choir and this piece in particular brought me back to my childhood Christmases. I've never paid attention to the words until now.  This is the Shepherd's Farewell by French composer Hector Berlioz from the mid 19th century. I find it fascinating to learn more about things I took for granted in my young life. Decades later this piece haunts me but in a good way. The lyrics of this piece describe the prayer of the shepherds as they bid goodbye to the Holy family escaping into Egypt. (Matthew 2: 13)

This piece IS my mother set to music. She could have written these words, particularly the last two lines: "God go with you, God protect you....(and most of all) guide you safely through the wild". She was the consummate worrier and the one who prayed for our safety constantly. The wild, the perfect metaphor for all the dangers out there,  represents all she ever feared in a single word. I know this. I am her daughter and much the same.

L'enfance du Christ
Thou must leave thy lowly dwelling,
The humble crib, the stable bare.
Babe, all mortal babes excelling,
Content our earthly lot to share.
Loving father, loving mother,
Shelter thee with tender care
Blessed Jesus, we implore thee
With humble hearts and holy fear,
In that land that lies before thee,
Forget not us who linger here.
May the shepherd's lowly calling
Ever to thy heart be dear. 
Blessed are ye beyond all measure,
Thou loving father, mother mild;
Guard thee well thy heavenly treasure,
The Prince of peace, the holy child.
God go with you, God protect you,
Guide you safely through the wild.

I miss you, Mom. Guide you safely through the wild.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Prince Delivers Purple Rain in Tacoma

Two tickets for the Prince Concert scheduled on 12/19/11 at the Tacoma Dome topped my priority list when tickets went online before Thanksgiving. Years back when Prince performed in Seattle on his alleged "last tour", I regretted never having seen him in concert.  Determined not to allow another opportunity to wash by me, I bought tickets quickly, without thinking.

The problem was I didn't consider the month of December; always a rugged proposition for me.  I've learned not to over-commit this time of year; life jam-packs with other events (birthday, anniversary, holiday parties and.....all that decorating). Turns out the Christmas party at Dad's adult family home was the same evening and a voice in my head kept saying, "Go to the party; you should go to the party". As days marched by, those tickets became a burden more than a highlight. No nibbles came from my Craigslist posting and now I wonder if the reason was that I was meant to go to the concert and enjoy the hell out of it. When I told Dad that I wouldn't be at his party because of concert tickets, he was fine with it.

D was never very enthusiastic about going to see Prince, insisting that Purple Rain was the only hit song he cared for.  I gave some thought to going alone but then....on a whim, asked my sister if she would be interested. She had a two word response: "I'm in!"  This was 24 hours beforehand and she was at home, in Houston.

Pertinent digression: Back in the 80's, that one-of-a-kind decade, she introduced me to Prince. Although she's forgotten this, it was she who enticed me to his movie, Purple Rain. I've counted on her on more than a few occasions to turn me on to new experiences. I remember thinking the movie was weird but the music grabbed me and I bought the album in short order. Years later the cassette tape, worn down by repeated play was replaced by a CD.I still pull it out when I want to go back to the 80's.

Picture this scenario: My sister arrived at the airport on a flight from Houston at 5:30 PM. Granted her trip here was planned but still....The concert started at 8 PM in Tacoma. Perfect timing. We stashed her luggage in the back end of the car, drove down I5 to the Tacoma Dome, grabbed a bite to eat, slapped in those earplugs (did we really?), and settled in for an experience in sound and light.

The concert was great; the back-up vocalists and musicians amazing. Purple Rain was the crescendo moment and save for the last performance (he did come back out for a short encore after that but what can top PR?). No first act; it was all Prince. He hasn't changed; rather timeless. Slight, nimble, a first rate musician, a performer.  He looked great in his long, black do-rag, tunic top over pants, wearing one white and one black shoe (heels of course). He's 53. Time, it would seem, has done little to his physical appearance.

Here he is in 1984. Where were you in 1984? Were you even on this earth? Many in the audience were souls aloft in 1984.  Many of us in the audience were much younger in body but I daresay, sporting the same spirit.

"I only want to see you laughing in the purple rain....."

Monday, December 19, 2011

Good Bye to On Call Week

Ahhhh, sweet Monday. She comes again but none too soon. The past week was rugged. My sign out to the good man taking over for me today started with two admonishments:  OMG and LHM. What's LHM you ask? He didn't know either. "Lord have Mercy"; a good southern expression.

This is December 19; eeeeech! I've got so much to do and would much rather write blog posts, watch TV and read.The tree is up but bare. The house is a mess.

My on-call week, the last for the year 2011, logs into the memory bank; soon forgotten as part of the steady stream of sameness with a sprinkle of the unknown and  the unique.

This was the week of opposing forces in medicine. By that, I refer to Kidneys vs Heart or Kidneys vs Liver; wicked battles where the requirements for optimal function of one organ stand in direct odds to the requirements of the other. These so called cardio-renal syndromes or hepato-renal syndromes invoke a cringe and dread because good treatments and outcomes are hard to achieve. The best we can hope for, in my opinion, is self-healing. I've never convinced myself that anything I do except "stand by" results in anything other than muddied waters. Sigh.  The week was unusually laden with examples of organs at civil war.

Louisa Lung, Harold Heart, Katie Kidney and Larry Liver
"Why can't we all just get along?", I wonder.  Something like this, maybe....??

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What a Bust Butt Week

I've been on call all week; there's always one week in December that sucks up 7 days of holiday enjoyment. I suppose I should be glad that I'm off call for Christmas and should look upon these days as the payment for time off around the 25th. I do, of course, but....when there is so much to do and so little energy for the task at hand, the Christmas season turns rugged.

The other night (when it wasn't dripping a cold rain) I told D; "It's time to go out to get a tree. Now. Right now." He willingly accompanied me to the tree lot we've used for the last half dozen years; less than a mile from our house with fresh cut trees from Olalla tree farm in Kitsap County. The lot was quiet, the guy in the trailer half asleep when we pulled up. This was two nights ago.

I told the guy, "Looks like you've got some Christmas trees here."  He laughed and told me to take a look. I think I surprised him when I took a two second overview, put my hand on a tree in plain sight, and said, "we'll take this one.". No fuss. Tied to the top of the car, we headed home with the yuletide tree and labored it into the stand along with a bucket of water.

There she (?) stands, lovely and green, unadorned in our living room. A true beauty, this one; almost too pretty to decorate.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Wreath; This is Progress

We've a wreath on our front door; this is definitely progress. I'm not sure about the bow. The neighbor's wreath has the bow on the bottom; I sort of like that better. Oh, well. Too tired to change it.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Tree of Books

Photo by Patti
Hear ye, hear ye; this is the kind of tree I'm talking about, one that would stay up all year and feed my soul with new books. Christmas trees come in many flavors, y'all.

I still can't get a traditional tree purchased, fitted into the stand, watered, lighted or decorated. I just can't. The thought overwhelms me.

Patti blogs at Pandora's Box.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

How Can We Ever Fathom the Pain?

I knew this young girl, Arwen Morgan. She and Laura were classmates and good friends at Blaine Elementary. There were sleepovers, outings to the Folklife Festival (Arwen came from a family of musicians), meals together, a garage sale they organized  and secrets that only young girls share. Arwen and Laura went their separate ways after grade school but intermittently stayed in touch. I remember seeing Arwen in a coffee shop a few years back; she came over to greet Denny and me and shared that she was studying at the Cornish School for the Arts. Where had all the years gone? Suddenly Arwen was grown up, just like Laura; young, beautiful and ready to take on life with passionate energy.

I learned this morning that Arwen committed suicide in July of this year; I hadn't heard. Neither had Laura. Her mother, Teresa, overcome with grief and unable to survive her loss,  jumped to her death less than 3 weeks ago. What a tragedy; a family ripped apart. Laura and I talked tonight about Arwen's death. Both of us cannot fathom the "whys" of this sadness. She struck us both as a self confident, grounded young woman. Then again, we can never know the mental suffering of another. So sad. So overwhelmingly sad; for Arwen, for her mother, Teresa, and for their family.

I'm filled with memories of a better time tonight; a time when two young girls played together and their parents had hopes and dreams for their future.

Mothers and Fathers are never supposed to lose a child. If so, the natural order of the universe, violated, dissolves into devastating insanity, irreconcilable.  I immediately think of my daughter. And, then I think of Teresa's reaction to the loss of her daughter. I get it; from where I stand right now: I get it.

And, then I think of a close girlfriend who suffered the unimaginable; the loss of both her children. How is this survivable, I wonder. I suppose we can only know if we are there, living the agony. Otherwise, we can only wonder.

Monday, December 5, 2011

December Rerun; over and over again

OK. The only problem with this cartoon is that I'm the dude sitting in the chair surrounded by beer cans and D is the one in the dress with a tree up the skirt. 

"I'll do it, I'll do it", I lament. Just give me time to adjust to a new month. It's only December the 5th.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Goodnight High Tech

Me thinks this explains why we're all so tired. We need to say goodnight to technology for more than a night. Can you believe most of this, if not all, "happened" in the last five years? What's to happen in the next five?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

All I Want For Christmas (or anytime)

It's Saturday morning on an early December day. Christmas looms. Call me Scrooge because I am.

My most favorite past-time anytime of the year is to awaken whenever I please and lay in bed with my laptop, drinking coffee and being alone. Sometimes I surf the net. Sometimes I write. If it's a day when the trash trucks pull up outside to haul off recycling and yard waste, even better.  Purging and getting rid of the extraneous junk that piles up is pure heaven. I'm talking about the visible and invisible junk of my life.....let it all go.

The house is quiet. But, it's getting on past 10 AM and there is stuff calling to me to be done. I could stay here all day but the passing hours invariably trigger a sense of guilt that I ought be out there doing.

I need to visit Dad after a week's absence. Last weekend my brother was here to take Dad to church and spend quality with him at the AFH. A week is a long time in my Dad's life to go without a visit from me.

I also need to get organized for Christmas. Why do we do this "Christmas thing" to ourselves?  It's too much for those of us who are more depleted by the season than energized.

I feel like a mutant for writing this but in the interest of sincerity and honesty; this is it!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Comes and Goes

Thanksgiving Day was great; the food and company superb. Time passes so quickly that the buildup and aftermath seem long compared to the meal we shared together. The fourth Thursday of November is still my most favorite holiday. I feel blessed for family, friends and the bounty of life.

These handmade pilgrims are decades old but always grace our buffet on Thanksgiving. My mother-in-law, Virginia made them from a pattern in a magazine many, many years back. Denny remembers them from his childhood. They've held up well, considering. The bobble head turkey is a purchase from a trip to Mexico but he looks good next to Mr. and Mrs.
The meal was great. We were a group of ten around the table. My Dad made the trek up the cold, windy and wet driveway into our house with some help and enjoyed his few hours with us. He was the only guy with a tie, we teased.

The table and buffet were full and we stuffed ourselves. Someone, who will remain UN-named gets the prize for the heaviest plate.

And now?  The feast is behind us until next year. The table that once lay ready is now quiet, waiting to be disassembled for another day and time.

The last of the holiday visitors take leave today.


** photo of my Dad, turkey and holiday table courtesy of Tina M. Thanks!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving Eve

One of the best days and nights of the year is Thanksgiving Eve. All the anticipation of the next day's meal and the gathering of loved ones under one roof makes me very, very happy.  I love to enjoy this holiday, the best of year in my opinion.

I'm trying to ignore the pull of the (way too early) Christmas carols on the radio and the advertisements on television and in the newspaper. Let's enjoy the now. Now is the time to be grateful for all the bounty of our lives and share in the feast of life.

On a lighter note; here's a laugh to underscore the sentiment.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Grand Cats

The young couple who just celebrated their second Wedding Anniversary (can it be????) adopted two kittens this fall. Gus is the lanky, part Siamese pencil thin dude with the long tail and Oliver is the precious little orange fur ball. Heather calls the three of them in this photo her "boys". Tina and I call the kitties the "grand-cats". Chris is still Chris.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

8 Hours in in Aruba

Looking into turquoise from a stony ledge near Malmok, Aruba

The ship docked in Aruba at 8 AM and set sail at just after 5 PM. All passengers were told to be on board no later than 4:30 PM but we headed back earlier; cranky and exhausted, more mentally than physically.  Visiting my beloved island after a 10 year hiatus was predicted to be the highlight of the recent Caribbean cruise. I suppose it was although the day was intense; wonderful but annoyingly frenetic. As we set sail from the harbor in Aruba, I cried from the upper deck and watched as the island became a shimmer of barely perceptible glow on the dark horizon.

I love this picture taken with my Iphone; somehow it pulls together all that was Aruba on that hot and breezy November 9th. Sometimes random pictures like these surprise me.  I stood on an old concrete ledge overlooking a coral embankment into the shallow waters a few miles short of the California Lighthouse; somewhere near Malmok. The textures and colors speak to the type of day we had on that
"one happy island".

Renting a car was harder than it should have been and bit into precious time, even with arrangements in advance. Navigating downtown Oranjestad and the "strip" took some patience. The drivers, aside from one who almost rear-ended me going 30 mph, were pushy but compromising; they actually let you in to a packed stream of traffic if you just put yourself out there into the pack with confidence. I had to re-wire my brain for this after Seattle. The rental had a decent A/C and brakes; the two critical features for a day trip in Aruba.

Dutch cookies
The first stop of the day, after an obligatory drive out to the California Lighthouse (the furthest northwestern tip of the island) was a grocery store. We found the perfect spot; two side by side enormous stores (don't ask why; this is ARUBA; things often make no sense to the outsider). What were we after?  Dutch treats. I grew up on Verkade chocolate and cookies and oh yes, Droste chocolate sprinkles. What's better than a chocolate sandwich? Then there were the Dutch cheeses: if we'd had room in our suitcases for these giant wheels of gouda cheese at such an awesome price, we'd have lugged them back as well'. We did manage a decent sized Edam cheese, some Indonesian spices, and a Nesbitt's red soda in the bags of treats we hauled out from the Kong Hing Grocery.

Verkade Dutch chocolate bars; all flavors
 After storing the good eats in a shady part of the vehicle, we drove to the opposite tip of the island; "home", aka Lago Colony. By this time we were getting hungry and longed for an authentic island pastechi. We found a stand between Savaneta and San Nicholas. The only pastechis left were cheese but oh man, were they delicious. Since the pastechi is typically a breakfast food, they are harder to find as the hours pass. Finding a vendor with much of a selection can be a challenge towards mid-day.

Lago Colony; what can I say?  This little community in the shadow of the oil refinery will always be home no matter how run down, decrepit and changed from those glory days of yore. Two of the houses we lived in are still there but neither looked great.  What doesn't change is the natural beauty of the lagoon, the ocean, and Colorado Point. My heart focused on these eternally treasured gems, especially my favorite place of all; the Point

Unbelievably calm at Colorado Point

Still no courage to step out on the bridge

Recent rain coaxed green from the rock of Colorado Point
Time slipped by way too fast and I found myself checking the watch and figuring out how much more we could do and make it back to the ship on time. This was the major detraction to an absolutely wonderful day. Later, back on deck, I told D that spending a day in Aruba wasn't exactly my idea of visiting my former home. Our hours on the island were precious but next time, I'll need a bigger bite to satisfy my taste.

Bye Bye Aruba; from the deck of the Crown Princess

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cruisin' with Vera Bradley

We are just back from a one week cruise in the southern Caribbean. My mind swirls with memories, observations, emotions, and to top it off: a stuffed gut.  I thought a series of short posts about our week at sea might capture the flavor of what we experienced.

Let's start with Vera Bradley bags.

Although this company was founded in 1982, I was totally obvious to these great looking brightly printed bags until I saw a few back pack and messenger bag VB styles in the U.T. Austin Bookstore last year. I thought they were cute but price-y for the purpose (practical me). When Laura and Scott introduced me to Quibids penny auction site last month, I mesmerized myself for hours online whilst demonstrating beginner's luck by winning two Vera Bradley products; a make-up bag and a tote purse (see pattern above).

My VB purse arrived just prior to the cruise and I decided to take it along. Turns out I was right in style.  As we waited in line to check in for the cruise I was amazed to see so many women sporting the VB purses, totes, and larger luggage-size pieces in a wonderful array of patterns. I tried to take as many pictures as I could with my I Phone.

I also learned that taking photos on the sly is more challenging than it looks. There were many more great looking bags that I missed capturing. Clearly, VB rocks on cruises. Too bad some of the labels say "made in China". That really disappoints. Why can't we manufacture in America?