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Will It Blend? Affirmative.

Back in November Bob and I agreed that we neither needed nor wanted anything by way of  Christmas gifts. We share a common lack of interest in material “stuff” and a clear sense that God  has blessed us with every truly important thing already.  More is generally not better, usually it’s just more. So it was settled. The simple joys would reign–time with family,  gratitude, sharing our blessings.  Agreed. Ix-nay on the esents-pray.

On  Christmas morning when the grand-kids had opened everything in sight, one very large package remained untouched behind the couch. (I know what you’re thinking. No, it wasn’t a  Red Ryder BB gun.) Bob pushed it toward me with a half-sheepish, half-excited grin on his face.  It was a Blendtec–you know, one of those multi-function-super-blenders that doubles as a cement-mixer. Yep.  Bob had wandered into COSTCO the day before, looking for athletic socks. He wandered out with two pizzas and a Blendtec, socks forgotten as visions of smoothies danced in his  head.

Can I tell you, I dig the Blendtec? Best toy I’ve had in years. Every day we pull fruits and veggies out of the fridge or freezer and concoct some amazing smoothie creation.  So far I have successfully suppressed my almost-daily urges to toss some oddment or other into it. I go into Ralphie-esque trances envisioning Dad’s crescent wrenches or half a dozen pairs of reading glasses or my entire ring of keys (clicker included) or the In-N-Out sandals from the laundry room shoe shelf whirling around with a mighty racket in our ferocious new machine. It probably wasn’t a great idea to watch so many “Will It Blend?” clips on YouTube.

http://www.youtube.com/user/Blendtec?blend=3&ob=0

I resist those more interesting urges in favor of bananas and strawberries and mangoes and such. Ya gotta love technology. I mean–I make my breakfast in a kitchen appliance that probably has more torque than my mini-van. The novelty has yet to wear off. Will it blend?

Anyway, I’m pulling out of a pretty rough patch with my Parkinson’s these past few months and I’ve been thinking about life.  I have come to the conclusion that, yes, it will blend. The love of God, the perfect atoning grace of Jesus Christ can handle anything that life throws at us. Sometimes, I confess, I look at a particular challenge or detail that gets tossed into the mix of mortality and I think, “No way. No can do. I didn’t order that. Where’s the milk and the honey? My jar is full. No more ingredients, please, especially not those ones.” Hard, rough-edged scraps of white-hot metal whirl around with thorns and nails and small, sharp bits of gravel from my shoes. And tears. Then atoning blood. And just when I fear that the noise and the grinding will overcome me, the shiny rotor-blades stop and I see that everything–the whole jar full–has become smooth and strong and somehow beautiful.  I take the cup in trembling hands, oddly grateful that it did not entirely pass from me. Holding it willingly, I notice that only a few drops sit in the bottom. Someone else has already taken the rest. All of it that was bitter or toxic or scalding has been swallowed up in His perfect love. What remains is clear and cool and slightly sweet and the taste of it on my tongue changes my face forever.
Blender philosophizing? That’s a first. But God is  good. His infinite mercy gets me through life’s rough, inexplicable, heart-rending challenges and gives me hope and power to rejoice. “The crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.” (Isaiah 40:4) In other words: It will blend.

Christmas Wake Up Call

In the trendy spirit of recycling, reusing, and repurposing I’m pulling out a Christmas memory that I recorded last year. I need to remember the lesson I learned:

For years, every little holiday observance that we undertook with our children became an instant “tradition.” Over the course of a decade or so all of these warm little rituals collected and grew, sort of like PeeWee Herman’s foil ball, until we had a shiny sphere of Christmas “must-do’s” the size of a small planet. No December could possibly bear up under the weight of it. We sprinted from the fourth Thursday of November straight to the New Year in a festive-if-frantic blur and then spent January in an almost comatose stupor.Then there was the year we fondly remember as the “Fa-la-la-la-la Flu” or “Retching Around the Christmas Tree.

We had blasted through our daunting holiday calendar with candy canes blazing. Tens of thousands of calories had been delivered to our neighbors and friends on dozens of goodie plates. Halls decked. Shopping done. Christmas cards mailed on time. Only the holiest of holies remained—Christmas Eve at Grandma’s, the wonder of Christmas morning at home, and a huge dinner with twenty loved ones gathered around our long pine table.
December 24 found me with the aches and the shakes and a mounting fever. Bob came home from work early looking as green as I felt. We spent the next 36 hours barely able to move from couch to bathroom and back. No Christmas Eve at Grandma’s. We opened a can of soup. Our four children made a brave go at the nativity story and cuddled down with their miserable parents on the couch to watch Christmas videos then put themselves to bed. Santa crawled off the couch long enough to shove the presents under the tree (about fifty percent of them wrapped.) Christmas morning we dragged from bed to couch to watch the kids open gifts. No huge Christmas dinner. I think the kids ate cold cereal around 1:00 pm. And I cried—cried for all the essential elements of Christmas my poor kids had missed that day.
At bedtime, our first grader, Heather, surprised us. “This was the best Christmas ever,” she sighed happily. Was she joking? Six year old sarcasm? Actually, she was sincere and her siblings chimed in their agreement. “You and Daddy just played with us and read books with us all day.” They were right. We hadn’t budged from the couch. Lying there we had played board games and read stories and assembled Legos. I hadn’t bustled around to clean up the debris and get dinner for twenty on the table. We had snuggled and dozed and played and laughed. And it had been perfect.
Talk about a holiday reality check! I began to re-evaluate all those perceived “essentials” of a perfect Christmas and pare down the list to a few truly meaningful things: unhurried, focused family time and the same glad tidings of great joy that caused heaven itself to break open in exultant song more than 2000 years ago. On earth, peace, good will to men.
Keeping Christmas simple is something I have to re-commit to every year. This December I got a wonderful gift to help me keep the season in perspective. If you want to spend ten minutes feeling the true spirit of Christmas, check out this inspiring message. It touched my heart and got me started on the right foot for the holidays. click on the this: Heartwarming Christmas message

Sufficient

I grew up in a big family, the fifth of six children. Happy chaos reigned year round, crescendoing in December to heights of almost manic joy and anticipation.  Like most kids, I lived from Christmas to Christmas.  Everything about the season made me happy–our family traditions especially.

The highlight of the season for me was Christmas Eve.  Even the brightly wrapped wonder of Christmas morning could not compete in my heart with the rituals of the night before Christmas.  The routine was sacred: Homemade pizza eaten around the long dining room table with the Santa tablecloth. Christmas caroling to nearby friends.  New flannel pajamas. Finally we gathered in front of the fireplace for the best ninety minutes of the year.  Mom read the Christmas story from Luke. We sang carols in shaky four part harmony.  Kurt  recited “Jest ’Fore Christmas.”  Our rag-tag family band blasted out heinous crimes against the canon of Christmas carols that should have been punishable by law.  Dad always ended the evening with something profound–a deep Christmas thought that inevitably left us in grateful, holy tears.  Life didn’t get any better than Christmas Eve.

I remember the first “Kelly” Christmas.  Pre-adolescent hormonal chaos had hijacked my life.  Everything seemed dramatic to me, but nothing triggered my histrionics like Kelly did. Mom tended Kelly every day after school.  It seemed like a natural way for mom to bring a little cash in as college loomed for my older siblings. Though I understood the necessity, Kelly cramped my style.  She followed me around like a puppy, yipping out incessant questions and sniffing around my room.   Mom’s attention was suddenly divided one more way. My universe, the one that revolved around ME (as it should, I firmly believed), reeled. I lived for 5:00 p.m. and weekends, when Kelly’s hard-working single mother would collect her daughter and leave me in peace.

One December evening  I was horrified to hear my mom in the kitchen asking Kelly’s mom about her Christmas Eve plans.  Well knowing the singular generosity of my mother’s heart, I froze.  She wouldn’t.  She couldn’t.  She did.  She invited Kelly and her mom to join us on Christmas Eve.  My Christmas Eve.  I was appalled and as soon as the delighted invitees left, I threw a full-on  adolescent fit.  Mom smiled and gently asked me how lonely it would be for them to go home alone to a cold apartment on the night before Christmas. “It will be fun.” She assured me.  “It won’t change a thing.”  I knew better–as I usually did back then.

It would change everything!  They would eat all our pizza.  I couldn’t appear in front of strangers in my goofy Christmas pj’s.  Kelly would make fun of our family band.  I couldn’t conceive of listening to my Dad’s Christmas testimony or weeping in front of people I didn’t go to church with.  I didn’t even know if they believed in the Christ part of Christmas–they were probably just in it for the presents.  The very thought of sharing my special night with virtual strangers offended me.  But I bit my tongue, so as not to disappoint my mother, and resigned myself to the worst Christmas Eve ever.

When the evening came, I found my mother was right–as she usually was back then.  Patty and Kelly relaxed and melted in the warm chaos of our Christmas Eve.  They harmonized.  Not a snicker escaped Kelly’s lips at the family band.  They even wept with us.  And they didn’t want to go home.  We talked and laughed and sang.  It was perfect.  Finally, at midnight, they thanked us,  gave hugs all around, and reluctantly went out into the cold.  I went to bed with a sheepish heart, marveling at the realization that the truly precious gifts of Christmas are not diminished in the sharing.  On the contrary–they deepen, sweeten, intensify, multiply when we give them away.  Patty and Kelly joined us for nine Christmas Eves over the years, but I remember that first “Kelly” Christmas most vividly.

I learned something that year about a phrase I had read in 2 Corinthians 12:9, something about the meaning of sufficient.  It means there is enough.  There is enough pizza.  There is enough joy.  There is enough peace.  There is enough love.  There is enough because Christ is enough.  “My grace is sufficient for thee . . .” And for Kelly and her mom. Sufficient for all of us.

In the past almost-three decades since I married and have built Christmas traditions with my own family, this lesson has returned to me again and again.  No matter where we are, or whose knees are under our table, there is enough.  Every Christmas is perfect when we open our hearts to the spirit of Him only who is perfect. Joy to the World.

How did you learn that “to give is more blessed than to receive”? How did you teach your children the spirit of sharing? 

A Christmas Story Or Two . . . Or Six

You gotta love technology. I read “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” to my grandkids a couple of days ago. They live 700 miles away. That makes it hard to hold them on my lap for a story–so I hold them on my laptop instead. Video chat takes a little of the distance out of long-distance Nana-hood.

My deal with Lydia and Emerson this December has been to read them a Christmas book every day on the computer. Mmmmmm. It makes me happy to share two of my favorite things with them–books and Christmas. I never tire of The Polar Express or Santa Calls, The Christmas Orange, and The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. 

As I have leafed through my big basket of holiday tales this year, a realization has dawned. The Christmas stories that  touch me the most do not have pages or illustrations. They live in my memory. So I have determined to put words on a few Christmas recollections. Hopefully I will find something sweet and  real in that hazy no-man’s-land between memories and the meaning we assign to them. Maybe the exercise will remind me of other true things that I almost remember–of a new star and a newborn babe and new hope.

My goal for the remaining week of advent is to record a Christmas memory each day, from my childhood or from my own children’s growing-up years. Think I can do it? We’ll see. I’ll post the first one today, I hope. We’ll see what happens from there.  In the meantime, chime in with a comment. Tell me about your favorite Christmas book.  Or share a Christmas memory/tradition that means something to you.

My Hips Don’t Lie Either . . . Bummer

Shakira and I have a lot in common (I know, you were just thinking the same thing, right?) My hips don’t lie either. And that’s a problem around this time of year.

Strange things start to happen in my kitchen in late Fall. Daylight savings ends and my oven flames on of its own accord and sings irresistible songs about cinnamon and cloves and butternut squash. I have no defenses. Must bake. Or make soup. Sadly the baking gene surfaced in each of my children as well. Heather made killer Soft Molasses Cookies (click on the photo for the recipe, you’ll cry they’re so good) and pumpkin bread (my sister-in-law Jen’s recipe is also on the page–best ever) this week. Have mercy.

Every Fall I wish my hips could lie. If only that zucchini muffin didn’t go straight to my lower regions and settle in for the winter I would have no problem. Why can’t my hips find some cunning way to hide the apple crisp and the Belgian waffles and the hot biscuits with pear butter? Is full disclosure kind or necessary?

I suppose I should be grateful to my hips for their brutal, tell-all honesty. When it reaches the point that I have to hold my breath in order to zip my jeans I turn away from the KitchenAid and head out the door for a run (I use the word “run” in its absolutely loosest sense.) Yep, I show those hips who’s boss. They regret their tattle-telling now, I’ll wager.

Ouch. My hips don’t lie, but they do whine a little after our run. They speak the truth as I hobble stiffly up the stairs: “You’re getting old . . .”  Thanks for the reminder. A couple of Advil will shut them up. With a pumpkin bread chaser.

What’s your favorite Fall recipe? Share it in a comment or just leave a link. I’ll add it to the recipes page.  I will also make it and eat it and let my hips say whatever they want. 

A Dog’s Life

We knew he belonged with us before he even had  a name– all floppy-soft ears and big clumsy paws and lovable curiosity. The litter was big and the puppies tumbled over each other in the grass or dozed in the sun or snapped at passing flies–except for one. The little yellow male with the pot-belly took an interest in us, wanted to play. He came home in a wicker laundry basket and we named him Caleb.

Big on heart, short on brains, Caleb grew up with us and entertained us and sometimes exasperated us. But mostly he loved us with that open, faithful, patient Yellow Lab loyalty that forgave us for the days that no one took him for a run and for all those steaks we barbecued right under his nose without ever offering him one. Caleb died peacefully in his sleep Friday night. I hope someone was waiting for him with a grilled steak in one hand and a Frisbee in the other.

I tap away at my keyboard this afternoon and cry for the pure-hearted companion who watched us hopefully through the sliding glass door, went into spasms of joy when he heard the rattle of the leash, and believed for twelve years that he was a lap dog. (What? Seventy pounds isn’t a lap dog?) As corny as it sounds I learned some pretty deep things from that goofy perennial-puppy-in-a-big-dog’s-body:

  • Enjoy life’s simple blessings. Caleb faced a bowl of the same kibble every single day for twelve years. Gross. But to see him come bounding joyously around the corner of the house when he heard the food clatter into his dish you would think that I had just laid out a six-course meal personally prepared for him by Emeril. He would thump my legs with his ecstatic tail and point his wet nose at my  face for a kiss (“Wow! Kibble! Is  it really kibble? For me?! Oh boy, oh boy, I was hoping it would be kibble. . . . “) before he pounced enthusiastically on the his IAMS. Attitude can make the same-old same-old into a banquet.
  • Give every creature the benefit of the doubt. Caleb liked everyone who crossed his path–canine or human or bovine or feline. He just wanted to play. On our long runs together we often encountered snappy, snarly dogs who acted like they would love nothing more than to eat us for lunch. Caleb never snarled back. Ever. That big old tail would just wag the faster and he’d go in for the introductory sniff. He seemed so surprised and bewildered when he got a nip or a bark, but he would trot away from the confrontation without so much as a growl.
  • Dream big and then chase your dream. Yes, Caleb loved to retrieve pretty much anything. Frisbee. Tennis ball. Stick. Then he discovered the cord of split almond firewood along the fence and sticks became mere child’s play. He would run to the back door dragging a log and drop it at (or on) my feet expectantly. Those things weigh about eight pounds. I would huck it for him and he would bound after it, practically unhinging his jaw to get his mouth around it and come running back to me triumphantly. Who says you can’t play fetch with a large log?
  • Watch over the people you love and lick their faces when they need it.   ‘Nuff said.
I once saw a bumper sticker that read “Dogs are just little people in fur coats.” Forgive my frankness, but that’s ludicrous. Dogs aren’t little people in fur coats. If they were, we wouldn’t like them nearly so much. They are dogs inside and out–loyal and unconditional and present in the moment, like we should be.
Goodbye Caleb. I will miss you. The carpets will stay a little cleaner, no more “land-mines” in the back lawn.  But I’ll always have your paw-prints on my heart.

Punchline

My four-year-old grandson loves a good joke. Actually, Emerson loves any joke. He has mastered the forms and conventions of joke-telling perfectly. Chicken crossed the road? Em can tell you twenty reasons why. Knock-knock? Make his day and say “who’s there?” Emerson will never run out of  jokes because he knows the formula and can make them up at will. Humor? Optional.

Nothing tickles me more than exchanging jokes with Emerson on video chat.  (Love my webcam, baby!) He gets as close as he can to the computer on his end so his head floats larger than life on the screen in front of me. (“I am OZ, the great and terrible, who are you and what do you want?”) Usually I am expected to lob the first volley.

Nana: “How do you tell which end of the worm is its head?”

Em feigns bewilderment, even though he has heard this one before.

Nana: “Tickle its tummy and see which end laughs.”

Em chuckles agreeably and returns fire in his scratchy little voice.

Em: “Knock Knock!”

Nana: “Who’s there?”

Em: “Banana”

Nana: “Banana who?”

Emerson’s eyes dart around the room, scanning for any random object on which to pin his punchline. Ah-hah. Got it. He turns back to the computer with a victorious grin.

Em: “Banana in a stinky sock.”

He totally cracks himself up, collapsing back in his chair in self-satisfied glee. I laugh out loud and wait for his next invention. The wait never lasts very long. The whole process delights me.

One problem plagues our joke exchanges. It happens when Em says, “Tell me another joke.”  My mind does not retain jokes. Or if I do remember the beginning, the punchline escapes me. Or worse, I forget how it starts and the punchline tumbles out before the set-up. Hopeless. If I try to make up a random joke, Em style, he gives me a lame chuckle and a skeptical look like, “Really Nana, you can do better than that.”  Then he waits. Nana on the spot.

So, this post is actually a plea for help. Please leave me a comment with your favorite clean-and-politically-correct joke in it. (It’s not hard, I promise. Just click on the “Leave a comment” or “# comments” button and type in your joke.) Better yet, leave me two or three jokes. Emerson’s appetite is insatiable and I would love to collect a serious stockpile for the long winter months ahead. Make me laugh–I promise I’ll remember the punchline.