Sunday, December 25

Christmas Reflections

A few minutes of reflection on the last couple of days...

I am one of those people who does the bulk of their shopping on Christmas Eve. I always have been. I recall one year when I was a teenager not only doing my shopping on Christmas Eve - but doing it on my ten speed bike. That year I had Mom's name (when you come from a family of 5 kids...playing Pollyanna is the only way to go!!) (where does the name "Pollyanna" come from??) and I had gotten her a painting by a friend of the family. So I ended up biking with bags in each hand, including one containing a 10x12 artwork.

Some years I wish for the all-encompassing excitement of that particular year. Some years it comes...some years it doesn't. The thrill of hiding the perfect gift...and then when the reveal is just as is just magical. Mom is one of the absolute best names to get...she (for reasons I don't understand) does not expect anything special. And so it doesn't take much to make her cry tears of happiness.

This year I drew my sister Karen's name. And she loved the gifts that I chose (a book of letters between Nancy and Ronald Reagan, the movie "Love Letters", an Itunes gift card and a nice painting by our Aunt Sally) but the thing that got the tears??? A card.

I'm not sure how long ago I started what is now a Christmas tradition for me...I write a card to each member of my family to let them know how they have been a gift in my life. Sometimes there are silly recollections. Sometimes reminders to them how very special they are (we forget if we aren't told!!). The family refers to them as the "tear jerker notes". Not too long ago, when cleaning my room for company, I found a note from a friend who has since gone on to heaven. It wasn't long...and I think it was the only correspondence I ever got from Kathleen. But her message to me was clear: I appreciate having you in my life.

And reading it reminded me that our connections to the people in our life...that is what is really important. And yes, there were tears when I re-read it. And placed it carefully back in a place that I will discover it again. Maybe on one of those days that I don't think I matter...and it will remind me that I do.

Shopping on Christmas Eve may not be for everyone...the stores are a little bit wrecked, and the staff is pretty tired. But I like it! The pressure is building and the excitement is mounting...and I have a deadline (which is usually how I function best...).

The family usually gathers for lunch (and beverages). That tradition started so long ago, Charley's was still in the mall!! During the early years it was a place of rest between spurts of shopping. Now, you will rarely find me in the mall. I only go there now for the movie theater (and really only go to the movies to have popcorn!) and an annual Hickory Farms sandwich. This year we had our gathering (12 of us...only missing Karen and Kenny, who were still working...) at LaCaretta! It is (like most of our family gatherings) a noisy time - full of laughing, joking and teasing.

And one tear jerker we were leaving the restaurant my brother Gordon handed me a bag. I looked inside to see glue and glitter. Tears came to my eyes to know that not only does he read my blog - but on a very busy day, he went to a store to get these things. To let me know that he remembered too. And that simple gesture is what it is all about.

After the shopping was done, and the Christmas Eve service was over, I sat and laughed with Mom, Denise and Karen in the dining room. I squeezed glue on Christmas balls and got glitter all over the place! And my sisters attempted to help with the project...and letters oozed...and I even shattered one ball. And we laughed some more. But now everyone in the family has a ball with their name on it again (at most of them are legible). But it wasn't the project that was important - it was the laughter.

As you may recall, we are just wrapping up a study of the disciples in the youth Sunday school class. There is a church tradition which says, that when John was an old man he was invited to speak at the church in Ephesus. He was so feeble that he had to be carried into the church. After long-winded introductions he stood to speak and his message was this: "Little children, love one another. Love one another. Love one another." And then he sat down. When asked why he said, "It is the Lord's command. And if this alone be done, it is enough."

Merry Christmas everyone. Love one another.

Friday, December 23

A Christmas Memory

Obviously I need a Christmas post. It is more difficult than you would is a holiday that has a lot of emotional aspects.

I was just reading a story via Facebook. The family of a nine year old girl named Abbie who died of cancer in April had made a special request - the Richmond news passed it on. Since Abbie apparently embodied the spirit of giving - they have asked people to do an act of kindness and then email the story to They will be filling a stocking with the email and spending Christmas morning reading those notes to each other. What an incredible legacy. And although I know the reading will be done through a lot of tears...hopefully it will also give the family some smiles.

When I was a young teen, my maternal grandfather passed away about a week before Christmas. I remember vividly when Mom came to my room to tell me. My parents were patient people and allowed us to have a small tree in our bedrooms if we wanted one. I recall mine that year was pretty scraggly cedar and it was decorated with a whole string of lights...even though it was only about 3 feet tall. I had spent the afternoon making paper chains and although I'm sure that I found the effect to be quite was probably pretty hideous. Mom had gone out to run an errand. I guess Dad must have taken the phone call... I know that I was sitting and looking at my tree, all the other lights in the room were off. Mom came in and told me. And we sat together on the floor and cried and looked at the tree. Even though she had four other kids and a host of relatives that she needed to talk to...she took as much time as I needed... (Mom and Abbie have that spirit of giving thing in common). I guess that was the first close family member I had lost.

Since that time, I have dealt with the loss of many family and friends. But there is something about sitting by the light of the Christmas tree that reminds me. Years before he passed, during one Christmas, Granny and Granddad made Christmas balls for each one of us. Just colored glass ornaments with our names in glitter. One for each of us. Mine said "Christy" (don't try to call me that...only one person living has that privledge. If you are not Gladys Bowie...I wouldn't advise it!). As the years have passed, one by one...the ornaments have met their ends. Except for two. Mom's and Granddad's. I think that is pretty cool. And every year when I hang it on the tree, I remember him. His laugh, his western hat, the way he popped his teeth out (which made us kids roar with laughter!), going to Dunkin' Donuts on Sunday morning, stopping by Peter's news stand (we weren't allowed to go in...apparently it was a rough place) for the Washington Post, going to High's Ice Cream store after church and spinning on the stools at the counter.

Remembering is good.

Tomorrow, a different view...

Tell somebody that you love them today.

Hamster a little misty...

Monday, December 19

Random thoughts - Volume 11?

another edition of random thoughts...

On Sunday we wrapped up our study of the 12 disciples in the youth Sunday school class. The final disciple to discuss was Judas Iscariot. Personally, I've always felt kind of sorry for Judas. You see, I have great difficulty resolving the whole idea of predestination with free will. (I have a Presbyterian friend who has offered to help me with that...I plan on taking him up on it soon) IF Judas was destined to be the one who betrayed Christ...then did he really have a choice in the matter?

I actually didn't bring that topic up with my class on Sunday. I think that if it is something I'm struggling to understand, probably not the best idea for me to try to teach it! And I don't think that it is fair for me to wrangle with great philosophical questions with the junior/senior high youth. They are not guinea pigs for my ramblings. That's what I have this blog for!!

But one question I did bring up at the end of the character study of Judas of Kerioth: What would have been different about the world if, instead of committing suicide...Judas had actually repented and asked God for forgiveness? Instead of just being sorry - if he had wanted to be better? What say you hamsterbeaters?

Second random topic: the creation of another foodie in the world! As you know, I am an unrepentant fan of food. Especially unusual and culturally diverse foods. And I have been responsible for introducing a lot of folks to edibles that they might not have encountered without me. My nephew Jack would rather eat Thai food than pizza - pretty unique for a teenage boy. He has also eaten and enjoyed Indian, Greek, Irish... What I love about that guy is that he will at least try it!

This past weekend members of the Gravely family visited Lynchburg. Five of the ten (!) Gravelys crashed at our house for a couple of days. Ranging in age from 5 to 25 - we knew it would be best to keep the food pretty mainstream. Pasta, grilled cheese, pancakes, chicken. But since Carl is the emperor of our Sushi Club (second to me!), we HAD to go for sushi!!

And I wasn't real sure what the younger kids would eat while we were scarfing down raw fish in wasabi... But they accompanied the club to Kings Island and although they ordered the chicken strips with fries...there were a couple of adventurous souls who stepped out of their comfort zone. All four of them enjoyed the crispy noodles and sweet and sour sauce. At least 3 of the four tried a bit of Beef and Broccoli. And bold Mary even ate parts of a California Roll.

The real standout was our new foodie John. In addition to eating Beef Broccoli, he also consumed the leg of a baby octopus (he says that next time he will eat the head), and he became so adept at handling chopsticks that he was able to eat fried rice with them! That is pretty impressive stuff. He loved his chopsticks so much that he kept them and on Sunday afternoon was eating grapes and Hershey kisses with them. I told him that once he could peel the wrapper off the Hershey kiss with the chopstick then I would consider him my equal :)

The house has been too quiet without the gang here. I need Bobby building towers of blocks (and watching them fall) and Garrett pushing that phone toy around the floor. It is just too quiet to sleep now.

Random thought #3: I made shrimp and grits tonight... The shrimp were marinated in lime and orange juice (and garlic). The grits were cooked in half milk half water and full of cheese. Not so much a random thought as bragging...

Final random thought: My fantasy football team is very likely to win our 12 team league this year. Once again, not so much a random thought...

The hamster has left the building!

Monday, December 12

Free Coffee Mug!

The cantata is now in the past and I have only two more musical events between now and Christmas. One to look forward to survive!

I will not tell you which is which.

This Saturday is the children's Christmas pageant - Christmas Letters: The Musical! Most every year my dear sweet sister Denise is the director of the Christmas pageant. She decides on the script, cast and wrangles the children. I am in charge of sound, lights, staging and keeping her from freaking out. I love her...but she has this perfect scenario in her head with angelic children sitting in rehearsal hanging on her every word and listening with rapt attention to the stage directions.

Reality is a lot closer to herding cats.

This past Saturday was dress rehearsal. By the time our director arrived, the Smallshaw boys had run laps around the balcony, the parents of 2 cast members had responded to my reminder text with "I thought that was tomorrow", and about a dozen other kids just weren't there yet. But we always said in theatre that a bad first tech meant a good opening night!

After a little bit, there was a solid run-through...and though there was not angelic attentiveness...I think most of the kids that were there have a pretty good idea of the plan. And Denise never freaked out.

It is a fun pageant - a modern family gets a letter from a relative who can't make it for the holidays and that gets them wondering what it would be like if they could write letters to the people in the Christmas story. And what it would be like if the Bible characters could write back! So we hear letters to Mary, Joseph, the Angel, a Shepherd, the Innkeeper and Baby Jesus...and their responses to the modern-day questions.

There are several songs (it is a musical after all!) being masterfully performed by two of our youth. Brandon and Jennifer, who are brother and sister, have blossomed into talented singers. The congregation at Centenary is treated to duets by them about once a month. It doesn't seem that long ago that Brandon was nervous about singing his first solo. They both sing with the adult Sanctuary Choir...Jennifer sits by me and sings the right notes in my ear. I just have to keep her out of my chair! She wants to be a diva...
It is strange that they are so musically gifted...their Mom claims she doesn't know where they get it from. All three of them are part of the handbell choir - which is the other musical event this weekend. We are playing this Sunday!

I'm not sure what the name of the piece is...but I DO know that for most of it I get to whomp my bells on the table. This is a new technique for me. Marcato. The table is padded so it doesn't hurt the bells. The challenge for me is that I'm whomping with the bell in one hand and ringing with the bell in the other hand. Kind of like patting your head and rubbing your tummy. addition to my usual look of terror, counting to myself, and asking the person next to me what measure we are I will also be trying to remember which hand is whomping and which hand is ringing. Because they switch part of the way through! Our patient director swears that she put me in that part because she knows I can handle it. Hmmm....

She may be right.

Come on over to Centenary this weekend and enjoy! Pageant at 4pm on Saturday (followed by Birthday cake for Jesus!) and Worship at 11am on Sunday. Guests get a free coffee mug!

Monday, December 5

To Ring and To Sing

I couldn't decide what to write about tonight...I had two possibilities. One was a freakin' weird dream that I had yesterday afternoon. Images include wild horses stuck in very deep sand brother trying to grill a chunk of meat the size of a Yule log...a sporting event that dissolved between jousting and soccer? Indeed, I believe that dream could use some pondering. But I have decided to go in a different direction.

I just came in from a soak in the hot tub. (before you get all jealous about my hot tub, read here...) And since I was soaking solo - I spent the time relaxing and preparing for tomorrow evening. You friend Belva, my nephew Jack and I are going to be ringing the bell for the Salvation Army at K-mart on Wards Road 6-7pm. But instead of just ringing the tiny little bell that they give us now - we are going to sing Christmas carols!!

So I spent about half an hour trying to see how many carols I could remember. And if I could remember more than one verse of any! I think that an hour will be a long time to fill up - but I guess we can repeat and also take requests. Perhaps I will get Jack to run by the church and bring us a couple of hymnals to help out! Because during tonight's rehearsal - a lot of the lyrics were "la la la la la la..." Especially the second verses.

I think it will be great fun - come by and join in!! Send requests for your favorites! Swing by and see if I can actually hit the high notes in "O Holy Night" and the low notes in "O Little Town of Bethlehem"!

And I've gone to Wikipedia to get the lyrics to the Dreidel song...we want to be inclusive here!

I have a little dreidel. I made it out of clay.

When it's dry and ready, then dreidel I shall play.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, then dreidel I shall play.

Even if you don't come visit my trio tomorrow night, drop a couple coins in the red kettles that you pass by! I promise that the money is very wisely used!

Friday, December 2

Driveway Moment Pondered

I don't watch college basketball. In fact, I actually watch very little sports on TV - which is odd considering the fact that I was once nominated for a CableACE for my production of live baseball games. But I think it is important that you know that I don't share the following because of any great love for a particular basketball coach.

I was having one of those NPR "Driveway Moments" yesterday. I was only half-listening to the interview at first...but then something caught my attention. The interview was with a sports journalist of some kind (see how much attention I was paying?) - he was sharing some stories from his career. I expect he was promoting a book or something...

He was speaking about what coach Bobby Knight once said to his players: "You can't be successful as basketball players if you're selfish people. And I'm not just talking about passing the ball or getting back on defense, it's about more than that." He went on to ask his players if any of them had thanked the person who had hosted the team for Thanksgiving dinner - not one could say that they had.

At first it may be hard to see how those things are related to winning basketball games. How is being selfish an obstacle to scoring? And then I thought back to watching my nephew Jack's basketball team last year (I wrote about their final game here) and what a difference it made when they stopped being selfish and were more interested in the TEAM than their personal stats. I believe it is more obvious in basketball than some other sports because the team is only 5 members strong. (maybe hockey...but none of you watch hockey...)

And the whole theory carries through to things other than sports. We are part of teams every day - families, workplaces, committees, clubs, service organizations, churches and circles of friends. When we set aside our personal goals and try to figure out what the team's goal is - and then work together to accomplish it...then we are successful.

I'm going to keep mulling this lesson over in my head.

I learned something from Bobby Knight? I didn't expect that.

More Wisdom from Odd Places

I wrote a couple weeks ago about being open to finding wisdom any place. And tonight I found a bit more to share. And the cool bonus? It came wrapped around dark chocolate.

Recently I picked up a bag of Dove dark chocolates - well - two bags actually. Because they were buy one, get one free. And the only thing better than chocolate is free chocolate. And tonight as a reward for surviving work, hand bell choir practice (in the piece we are working on I get to whomp the bells on the table!!) AND choir practice...I got a few pieces out of the bag to enjoy.

As I was about to toss the foil wrapper in the trash, I remembered that Dove puts messages on their wrappers. Sort of a fortune cookie without the lottery numbers. And it so happens that this bag is holiday themed - so the following are bits of wisdom from my late night snack:

"Promise yourself some relaxing holiday moments." That is a really good idea. I know I usually get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holiday that I forget to just stop and smell the Christmas tree. Already I find myself hopelessly over-scheduled and none of that scheduled stuff includes shopping or baking. I'm going to have to learn to say "I just can't fit that in, but thank you so much for asking." And that will leave me more time for the next Dove advice:

"Your presence is often the best present" and "A helping hand is sometimes the best present of all." I keep seeing my Facebook peeps stressing about this gift or that gift. And I KNOW that I'm not swept up in that because I HATE shopping...but I forget that the best part of Christmas is being present. Not running from this event to that event...but taking the time to just sit and enjoy the company of the person I am with. And, helping a friend (or stranger) with something is even better than buying them something. I'm a huge fan of alternative gift-giving. And whoever has my name for the family gift exchange...I'd love a big pile of canned goods for the food pantry.

And the last foil wisdom for tonight? "Joy" I'm going to stop from time to time this season to remember the reason for Joy. The world had been waiting so long for a promise to be fulfilled. And in a little town, overcrowded by a stable...the wait was over.

Hamster beaten. Chocolate consumed. Cat snoring. All is right with the world.

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