Pay No Attention to the Chipped Nail Polish

coffee cup ring Pay no attention to the chipped nail polish evident on my pinky. Instead, pay attention to the ring. My ring. My wonderful, silver, steaming-coffee ring.

I’d seen it on Facebook months ago, as had my mother, but had no idea where to get one. Imagine my surprise when my mother, grinning in that gushy way that only mothers can, presented me with a wrapped box on Christmas morning. “What does the card say?” she prompted, unbridled glee evident on her face.

“‘To my favorite coffee companion,’” I read aloud. Coffee has been a ‘thing’ for my mother and me ever since she would spoon a couple of teaspoons of her coffee into my milk on special mornings. These days our coffee dates are mostly virtual, because of geographical limitations, but no less special.

I opened the box, as I always do, with efficient ripping of paper. I will never be one of those people who saves every precious piece of tissue. (Except, well, this year I did make people return their tissue, since I had to throw away all the old tissue I’d used to wrap my ornaments after the horrifying mildew incident.) I believe wrapping paper is meant to be ripped. It’s even better when you get to hear that satisfying tearing of the paper – tissue doesn’t make that sound half as well as sturdier paper.

Inside a bag, inside the box, was this ring. A ring I’ve secretly coveted for months. A ring I never expected to find on Christmas morning.

“I love it,” I told my mother. “Where did you find it?”

“I saw it on Facebook,” she said. “And a friend knew a jewelry maker, who made copies.”

“Isn’t that illegal?” I asked, not that I had any intention of returning the ring.

“Actually,” my mother said, “it’s not. You can’t copyright design.”

So, pay no attention to my hands that were badly in need of moisturizer and a warm mug to hold, and look instead at the awesome gift I got, one among several awesome, special gifts, of which the greatest was sharing the holiday with family.

Pay no attention to the chipped nail polish either (I haven’t had TIME to get a mani-pedi in forever.)

Instead, pour a mug of something warm and tasty, and join me in toasting the people you love.

Human Moments and High Percentage Choices

Blue Christmas

Sometimes leaving all of your visiting family at home and heading out to midnight mass is a high percentage choice.

2:00 AM. Christmas Morning.
We arrived home from the late service at St. Alban’s at the Theatre just as the rain was beginning to fall, and the thunder and lightning hailed our arrival even before the dogs started barking their greeting. (The last three words are unofficial, and I add them here simply because, to me, the fact that this church meets in a theater is somehow appropriate. Theater celebrates words, and church the Word made flesh, and yes, my metaphor needs work, but really, how lucid are YOU at this hour? And besides who’s to say a theater is any less sacred a space than the Of-the-Meadow or In-the-Woods spaces we’re accustomed to seeing?)

If I had to pick one word to describe my feeling at the end of this “midnight” mass, it would be the one I used with Mother Melanie: satisfying. Just as a really good meal leaves you neither still hungry nor over-stuffed, so, too, does a really good church service. And tonight’s service, while a little unconventional, was really good. Really…satisfying.

I think what I responded to the most were the human moments. Tonight’s service was mostly a cappella, and before the actual mass, there was a time of carol singing, led by the clergy sitting at the foot of the stage, asking for the congregation to choose the songs to be sung. (My favorites are not easily sung unless you know them – “Once in Royal David’s City,” for example – so I didn’t make suggestions – but I was silently thanking previous choir directors (Clyde Putman, Glorian Mulligan Stratton) for their attention to sight-singing and a cappella work, because while I “know” most all the songs we did tonight in the caroling and during the Eucharist, some I’d only ever sung alto on, and one was completely unfamiliar.)

But in addition to the singing, there were other human moments, like watching three young men (young enough to retain traces of childhood in their faces) singing “O Come All Ye FaithFul,” or listening to a guitar duet of “Silent Night,” or a delightful Oboe solo. Or even the moment when a phone went off and it turned out to be Mother Melanie’s own. After watching UUCOC move from a church full of such moments to one where even applause was discouraged, and people were required to “applaud” in ASL, it is these moments – spontaneous applause, appreciative chuckling, reverent irreverence – that really make a church feel comfortable to me. I like the ritual of high church, but I like the ease that comes from accepting that we are all human, all flawed.

I guess these moments sort of make me feel like God is the Ultimate Improvisor, and that when we allow ourselves to simply BE we are playing along in the grand game of “Yes, And.” (Lately, everything has come back to improv for me, which is weird, because I haven’t actually DONE any formal performances in well over a year.)

So, yes, I like this St. Alban’s-at-the-Theatre immensely. AND I got to do one of the readings tonight, which was almost like a Christmas present because I’ve always wanted to do that. AND I got to sing with Fuzzy in church tonight, which is another thing that always makes me feel grounded and centered. AND the people in this congregation are so warm, smart, funny and engaging that we hung out til one AM chatting even though we meant to linger for only a few minutes (AND they sent me home with leftover wine). AND I want to go back.

I’m never sure if God has a specific plan for me, or not. (See that bit about improv, again.) I’m still learning how to discern that still, small voice inside myself and, even more, to actually listen to it.

But as we drove home, I realized I felt completely at peace and connected with the world. True, a good part of that feeling was Christmas magic, but an equal measure was the result of feeling like I was answering a quiet call.

Whether it’s playing a specific character on stage, or feeling the click of satisfaction after mass, going with your gut instinct is usually a high percentage choice. And those human moments? They’re just another kind of Truth, and the best comedy – the best ART – always comes from a place of Truth.

Lagging

I’m woefully behind in my blog, my book blog, and a Christmas project, and almost behind on work. Tomorrow, I’m staying home while my parents go out, so that I can finish what I need to with at least ONE of those things.

Right now, I’m tired, but it’s the tired that comes from a long day full of small gifts (and large ones) rather than a stress-borne tired, though there was some stress involved; I just can’t talk about it just now.

In the meantime, I’m writing this post mostly to prove I’m still here, still connected.

Tomorrow: baking cookies and writing tons of words.

Friday: Shopping for the Christmas party I’m hosting.

Saturday: Party on.

Sunday: SLEEP? At least I hope so.

And now? One more episode of Numb3rs on Netflix before bed.

Little Church in Grand Prairie

St. Joseph's Episcopal Church

This morning, Fuzzy and I visited a church we’ve driven by innumerable times since moving here eight years ago, but have never been in: St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church here in south Grand Prairie.

The building looks more like it should be on the prairie of South Dakota than in the middle of the DFW metroplex, with it’s gray clapboard construction and welcoming red doors. Inside, it’s much brighter and cheerier than the humble facade would imply, with white walls, hardwood floors and a wooden railing at the altar. As we listened to the choir rehearsing, I remarked to Fuzzy, “This feels like something out of Little House on the Prairie.” The grey sky and large empty field (lot, really, but let’s pretend it’s a field) outside the clear windows only added to that feeling.

Apparently the church was originally the All Faiths Chapel at Naval Station Dallas (why a landlocked city needs a navy base is something I haven’t yet determined), back in the 1940s. It was supposed to be torn down in the 60s, but instead was donated to the church, and moved to its current location.

I liked the building.

The service, however, didn’t thrill me. Or rather, it confused me.

Let me explain: Grand Prairie is part of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. When we first moved here, we went “church shopping,” and began attending St. Andrew’s Episcopal at the other end of town. St. Joseph’s is much closer, but it doesn’t have a functioning website, and when I left voicemail for both both churches, only the folks at St. Andrew’s responded.

I liked St. Andrew’s, the people were a great mix of old and young, it has the local Episcopal school which meant that kids were involved in most activities, and the music director/choir master/cantor was awesome. But then there was a split in the diocese, where the old-school, ultra-conservative sect (led by Bishop Iker) basically bailed on the ECUSA (the Episcopal Church of the United States of America) because they objected to the ordination of women and gay people as Bishops (well, at all when it came to gay people.)

So now, there are two groups calling themselves the Diocese of Fort Worth. One, the old-school ultra-conservative group, petitioned for oversight and realigned itself with the Southern Cone, which is what oversees Episcopal churches in Latin America. The more modern, liberal folks stayed with ECUSA. On a parish-by-parish basis, some entire parishes went one way, some went another, and many still worship together, but are waiting for court decisions on who owns property.

One of the reasons I like the Episcopal church, in general, is that there are women priests and bishops, and there are gay people in those positions as well, so when the split happened, I couldn’t in good conscience continue to worship in a place that went with the old guard. Still love the individual people, but disagreed with their choice.

We spent the next several years at the local UU Church, where I made some very warm friends and was pretty active, but I got tired of the politics (even though I agree with most of them) and really felt like I needed to be in a place where there was a woman in the pulpit. It’s a funny thing about UU churches – most of the congregations are primarily women, yet most of the ministers are men, and even though they’re warm, smart, enlightened men, I like a different perspective.

This was really brought home to me on Christmas Eve, 2010, when a bunch of us went to midnight mass at an Episcopal church in Fort Worth (the modern diocese) with the first female rector in the diocese. She was AWESOME, and the Christmas story has never had so much impact. But that church is a 40 minute drive.

So we checked out one a little closer – St. Alban’s in Arlington, which is currently meeting (well, the modern part) at Theater Arlington. Love the priest-in-charge, love the music, seems like a nice group, but they start at 9:30 in the morning, and for Fuzzy and me the difference between a 9:30 start time and a 10:00 start time is significant, especially since it’s in downtown Arlington – a minimum drive time of twenty minutes.

Anyway, I wanted to go there this morning, but 9:30 wasn’t going to happen, so I said, “Look, I know St. Joseph’s is with the old diocese, but we’ve sung with many of those people during Lessons and Carols, and it’s literally close enough to walk to (if we felt like it), so let’s check it out.”

So we did.

The music was lovely, and, to a point, mass is mass. Different churches use different forms of the service, but they’re all essentially the same during Advent. But the subject of the sermon went a little to far into “people will always be evil until they come to God” territory, and I don’t believe one MUST be religious to be a good person. Faith and Morality are not always a package deal.

As well, even though this is Rose Sunday, I was really jarred by the use of the Hail Mary (which isn’t usually an Episcopal prayer) as part of the service. (I learned the Hail Mary from my grandmother, I have no problem with it, particularly, I just wasn’t expecting it.) I know there are some Episcopal churches that are becoming sort of Anglo-Catholic, but I wasn’t expecting that here.

And then, there was this underlying feeling of guilt about being there in the first place, when I left a church I mostly liked because of the whole split.

So, am I glad I got to see the inside of the building (and I confess, the BUILDING has been drawing me)? Yes. But when a friend asked me if I enjoyed the service my answer was – and still is – “Yes and No.”

Holidailies 2012

Dog Tired

three dogs

It’s just after midnight in my time-zone, and I haven’t even done much all day – except drop off paperwork with the Shelter 2 Rescue folks (Dexter’s final paperwork from when he was adopted last week), eat enchiladas, go to the comic book store, watch Fuzzy vacuum and steam-clean the downstairs carpets, finish reading a book, go to dinner with some of Fuzzy’s co-workers and some of their local friends (Hibachi scallops – yum), and help empty a closet and sort through the contents.

It doesn’t seem like a lot, but last night was a late night, and today I’ve felt over-tired and dehydrated even though I’ve been drinking water like crazy, and I think I just need to chill tomorrow, but I have more to accomplish.

I should want to curl up in bed with a book for the next hour or so, but somehow, sleep is calling, and I want to be up early enough to go to mass tomorrow.

My dogs kindly managed to all be still-ish at the same time, in the same room, earlier this week so I could shoot the picture in this post, allowing me to use the title Dog Tired, which I am, and so now, I’m off to bed.

Holidailies 2012

Five Things I’m Not Going to Write About…Much

Blue Christmas

It’s 6:23 AM, and I’m awake, not because I’m grieving over yesterday’s shooting in Connecticut (though I am saddened by it), and not because I’m anticipating anything specific happening today (though every day is worthy of anticipation) but because my brain is spinning ideas like so much cotton candy, and even though I’d much rather be dreaming, I’m sitting in bed with my laptop on a pillow and a dog pinning my ankle to the mattress. At least it’s one of the smaller dogs.

There are so many topics in my head, but instead of picking one, I’m sharing five I’m not going to write entire posts about:

  1. Sandy Hook, CT:Yes, it was horrible and horrifying. Yes, it was tragic. But as I’m not directly related to the situation, am not a parent at all (dogs don’t count in this instance) and don’t have either magical powers or a viable solution to this recurring problem, I’m going to quietly say a prayer for the children, those who lived and those who died, for the adults (same categories) and for the parents and families of all of them. Whether prayer is a plea for help or merely adding my energy to the vortex doesn’t matter. In this case, it really is the thought that counts. HOWEVER, I have no patience for people who were NOT directly involved, directly affected, being maudlin about events like this for weeks. Tragedy happens, but dwelling on it is often just a waste of time.
  2. Gun Control: Do we, as a culture, need to talk about real measures? Yes. Do I believe it’s far too easy to obtain guns in America? Yes. Do I believe the average citizen either needs a gun or “should” own one? No. But neither do I believe that my posting so on Facebook or Twitter will do anything to fix THAT problem either. I think we’re all too likely to shoot first and ask questions later. Beyond that: I don’t allow guns in my home, and I think that, unless they’re in day-glow colors and shoot only water, gun-shaped toys are wildly inappropriate for all children.
  3. The War on Christmas: The thing is, there isn’t one. We live in a pluralist society. We have for centuries, now, and it’s time we all just admit it, and move along. If you’re Christian and your neighbor is Jewish or Muslim (or Wiccan, or some other kind of Pagan, or an Atheist, or Agnostic, or completely uncomfortable defining their spiritual practice), count yourself lucky that you get to maybe learn first-hand about a different perspective on faith. If you go back far enough, the stories are the same, and the meanings behind them profoundly simple: Be kind to people. Treat your neighbors at least as well as you would treat your family. Be good to the earth, we only have one. Recognize that we are all human, and that the things that unite us are far more numerous than the things which divide us. Christmas isn’t going away any time soon. Stop worrying about non-existent attempts to end it, and celebrate, instead. You’ll be much happier.
  4. The Separation of Church and State: I’m sick to death of people saying we need to bring God back into schools. No. We don’t. Religion is the job of parents and religious leaders. Schools exist to give everyone a baseline education so they can function in the world as independent adults. No school is equipped to teach religion or religious history without bias, and frankly, math, languages (including English), science, history, geography, and critical thinking are far more important. Besides, I don’t think God needs a remedial education, and I’m pretty sure God is already conversant in everything from astrophysics to zoology, though the free reading period that included Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series was probably skipped over in an attempt to remain sane. Anyway, freedom OF religion has to include freedom FROM religion, or it’s just empty words. Do I think everyone should go take a course in “the Bible as literature,” at some point? Yes. But I also think we should still be teaching kids cursive writing and accurate world history, as well as art and music. Then again, I’m not a parent (see point one).
  5. Vegetarians: I’m very happy that a portion of our society has given up meat. More bacon for the rest of us! What makes me unhappy is this holier-than-thou attitude that somehow being a vegetarian is the only ethical choice. First of all, are you aware of the great number of small animals (including rodents, which, okay, not really on anyone’s menu so much, but still…) die every time fields are harvested by machines or the land is turned over? Look it up sometime. As well, unless you live in a place where your entire diet is grown locally, you are just as guilty of helping to ruin the planet by transporting things from distant places or growing things where they’re not native. Also? Humans are omnivores. Look it up. Meat has ALWAYS been part of our diet. I do, however, agree that we need to eat LESS meat, as a rule, and that when we raise animals with the intent of eating them we have an obligation to treat them well. I don’t even have an issue with hunting, as long as it’s for food and not sport, and the whole animal gets used. It would be hypocritical of me to be anti-hunting – I like venison too much.

So those are my five mini-rants. But here’s a bonus one: SOCIAL MEDIA.

A lot, today, but fairly regularly over the last four years, I’ve seen people killing off-line friendships because of political/spiritual/cultural opinions posted on Twitter and Facebook. I find this absurd. Before we had social media allowing us to share every thought (or fraction thereof) that crosses our minds, we still held opinions that were sometimes wildly divergent from the opinions of our friends and families, we just didn’t know about it, and I think we got along much better.

I’m lucky. I have friends and family from all over the political and spiritual spectrum. I get along better with those who have views similar to mine, but I don’t believe we have to agree with each other all the time in order to love each other, or to get along. I’m a writer. Expressing myself is both my hobby and my job, but sometimes I think we should be much more intentional about what we put out into the world.

I’m not Jewish but over the past several years, ever since I learned of it, the concept of tikkun olem has really resonated with me. It’s about healing the world. From the ground up, from the heart down, with hands and minds and whatever else we each have to give. I’m going to repeat myself: the things that unite us are more numerous than the things which divide us. Go find a way to unite people today. Be kind to one another.

And thanks for reading this.

Happy Holidailies

Welcome to the Word Lounge (Version 2.0)

Desk Part 2 Last week, I wrote about some household Re-arranging we were doing. Today, I took pictures of my almost-finished Word Lounge (version 2.0). This post is image intensive, but I thought you might like a tour…

Desk Part One The first picture on this page – the one with the dolls (or action figures, as I’m told the cool kids are calling them these days) – is the part of my desk that doesn’t have a computer on it all the time. I try to keep that surface free for bringing my laptop into my writing room (it lives on my nightstand) or for doing things that require pen and ink, instead of a keyboard. This is the OTHER half of my desk (excuse the mess), and it doesn’t face the window, but at least my back isn’t to the door either.

Bookshelves These bookshelves are from the furniture I bought in California in 2002 or 2003. I gave away the glass and brushed aluminum desk that went with them, when I originally moved OUT of this space in 2008. Now that I have warm wood furniture in here, in a completely different configuration, I find I like the space again.

Credenza Originally, I kept a fax machine on this credenza (the actual cabinet part, which is mostly below frame.) Currently, the inside holds reams of paper (and I do mean reams), and I don’t even own a fax machine any more. The shelves on top, which have paint kits that Fuzzy brought back for me from Japan, among other knick-knacks, were purchased at Target in 2008. He said they wouldn’t fit, but I love the way they work. On top, propped against the wall so it’s easier for me to alter it, is one of my two “inspiration boards.”

Corner Desk This corner desk is one that we bought for temporary use when we moved into this house in 2004, and were waiting for our furniture. Eventually, it’s leaving my room (and being replaced by a futon/couch thing- probably in March), but for now, it’s holding extra monitors, my Harry Potter books, and (though he’s quite blurry, thanks to Max trying to ‘help’ me take the picture) my Severus Snape action figure. As soon as I clean the typewriter (vintage Remington) I just bought from a friend, it will be filling the empty desk space. There’s no chair in front of it, because the dog bed is on the floor right there.

Reading Chair Every room needs to have a reading corner. Mine is at the window. The chair was my grandfather’s. When I was a baby he would sit in that chair and hold me, or read to me. The table is one that a friend needed to find space for when she was emptying a storage unit. As soon as I iron the white table-cloth my mother gave me for Christmas last year, it will go on the table, along with a candle-wreath made of shells from my mother’s beach.

File Cabinet Finally, tucked into the corner near the closet, is a file cabinet, which came from the same friend who supplied the round table. Unlike in one of my favorite children’s books, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiller, this file box holds mailing and shipping supplies. My Keurig machine might eventually live here; but then it might not.

Oh, and for those who are wondering what’s in the closet, it’s lined with bookshelves, all of which are overflowing with books. Obviously.

Holidailies 2012

Wax Paper

In my recent spate of pre-holiday baking, I’ve rediscovered wax paper.

I’ve had a couple of rolls in the back of the pantry for a while, purchased because some recipe I was going to make at some point required them, but I hadn’t actually begun to use it until wax-paper last Saturday when I baked a lemon pound cake. The instructions for that recommended lining the loaf pan with wax paper so that it was easy to pull the cake out after baking.

Removing that lemon pound cake (which was divine, by the way – DIVINE) was so easy, that not only did a friend and I actually have a conversation about wax paper yesterday (Well, not just about it, but still, we are not 1950s housewives. We both do paid work, you know?), but I used the same trick when I made banana bread this morning.

It’s weird, the way common objects can have so much meaning. I mean, yes, on one level wax paper is just a tool that makes baking a bit easier, but at the same time, the texture of it, the satisfying ripping sound it makes when I remove a length of it from the roll, those things are time portals that take me back to summers at the Jersey shore with my grandparents.

I remember picnic coolers lined with dry ice, holding a pitcher of iced tea, tuna or egg salad sandwiches wrapped in wax paper (or, if my grandmother had them available, wax paper sandwich bags), and paper napkins that went into the cooler with the food. Something magical happened to those napkins in the process. Before they went into the picnic cooler they were normal paper, slightly rough, but when they came out of it at the beach they felt like cool, soft tissue, and I used to love holding them up to my sun-warmed skin before using them as actual, you know, napkins.

Food tastes better, at least to me, when it’s wrapped in wax paper instead of plastic wrap. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t sweat, or maybe it’s just nostalgia, but if there’s beauty in ordinary things like dandelions and autumn leaves, there’s a kind of beauty in wax paper and fresh baked goods, and even in tuna fish sandwiches, whether they’re eaten in the sunlit kitchen or while sitting on a blanket in the sand.

Happy Holidailies

Happy Birthday, Maximus

BabyMax

Four years ago this weekend, somewhere in Texas, a black and white puppy squirmed into a cold, scary world. Not long after that, he found himself in a rural Texas kill-shelter.

When we met him nine weeks later, in February, 2009, we weren’t looking for a third dog, and we certainly weren’t looking for a puppy, but something about this black and white boy, all alone in the world, curled itself around our hearts. A week later, he was sleeping in a crate in our bedroom by night, and leading our first foster-dog, a heeler named Blue, around our house by holding the hand-loop of a leash in his mouth.

Max in the Park

At ten weeks old, he was already a problem-solving dog.

A week after that, Blue found his forever home, and our Zorro-dog died. Max knew something was ‘different,’ but he wasn’t yet terribly affectionate, more inclined to gnaw on our fingers or chew on our necks than give kisses.

Within five months Max had outgrown his first crate, and was rapidly expanding in all directions, to fill his second. At one point, I went to Mexico, leaving behind a puppy, and coming home to a DOG.

Over time, as Max grew into his current 70-pound (plus or minus) frame, he also became the sweetest, most affectionate dog ever. Sure, we’re still trying to curb his counter-surfing habits, and he’s picked up our nocturnal habits to the point where he won’t eat before ten in the morning, but otherwise, he’s a great dog.

CuddlyMax

And now…now he’s FOUR.

Happy birthday, Maximus. You came with that name, and we let you keep it, but you took our hearts in exchange.

Holidailies 2012

Rubber (Glass?) Ducky, You’re the One

I meant to post this last night, but after a morning of dropping the foster dog, Dexter, at adoptions (He was adopted. Congratulations to Dexter’s new family, and Happy Whatever Holiday You Celebrate!), having an early lunch of tacos, making lemon pound cake (which involved finding and washing the juicer so I could use real lemon juice), and an afternoon of good company with good friends, all I wanted to do last night was soak in the tub and watch a few episodes of Warehouse 13 on Netflix. Duck-Ornament

In any case, my friend Carmi hosts a weekly (and fairly loose) meme called “Thematic Photographic” on his blog, and I haven’t participated forever, but I noticed that the current theme is “Mellow Yellow.” No, he’s not celebrating a defunct brand of soda with that title (well, not directly, and anyway, they didn’t use the Ws in that) but all things yellow.

I could have taken a picture of the lemons that went into the pound cake (five of them), or the finished product, but since I made my friends work for their dessert by helping me hang ornaments on my Christmas tree, I thought a picture of an ornament would be most appropriate. And what better choice of subject could there be, than my whimsical rubber duck ornament.

Which is made of glass.

I suppose you’re thinking, “That makes it a glass duck ornament,” which, technically it is, except it’s modeled on the classic bath-time Rubber Ducky toy. Which makes it a glass rubber ducky. Or a rubber glass ducky. Or…hey, look at the adorable duck ornament nestled in the dark green faux pine needles!

(And on that note, I’m off to meet friends for brunch. Potato pancakes, anyone???)

Happy Holidailies