A 2008 Best of Holidailies Selection. Thanks, Holidailies Reviewers!

Just as plastic trees become objects of wonder just as they’re bedecked with fairy lights and ornaments, Christmas decorations, in general, become unmagical as soon as the Christmas season is over.

For some, this change happens around the 6th of January – Epiphany, the 12th Day of Christmas. For others – me included – it happens between 11:59 PM on New Year’s Eve, and the first light of New Year’s Day.

Like a tired party girl dragging herself home after a late night, make-up smeared, stockings in runs, shoes with impossibly high heels carried in one hand rather than being worn, decorations left up on New Year’s Day seem somehow cheap and tawdry.

Oh, the silver and gold are just as shiny as ever, but once the season passes, the shine becomes tacky, rather than tasteful. The bright reds and greens seem overdone, somehow, and the scent of pine and gingerbread becomes cloying.

While I’ve been ready to move beyond Christmas for several days now – despite my love of the season – I’ve resisted, because I know all too well how little time we get to enjoy the Yuletide magic every year. I will miss red and green candles, but I’m looking forward to the freshness of cream and pale gold tones. In my head, I catch whiffs of pear and vanilla, two of the “clean” scents that mean the new year to me.

Tonight, I will put on party clothes and drink to health and prosperity; tomorrow, I will box away my Christmas treasures for another year, in clean white tissue. When I am done, the house will feel too big for a few days, but then things will settle, and I will enjoy brisk mornings with oatmeal and coffee, and chilly evenings with stews and rented DVDs – the pleasures of winter without the stress of the holidays are so restful.

To those of you who are going out tonight, please be careful. Have fun, just be judicious about it. To those of you staying in, enjoy the comfort of home. To everyone reading this: May you have a peaceful and prosperous New Year.


We visit others as a matter of social obligation. How long has it been since we have visited with ourselves?
~Morris Adler

This week I’ve been feeling insular, and basking in not-quite-solitude. I say “not-quite” because Fuzzy has been in the house, but mainly keeping to himself, in his office. I, on the other hand, have spent far too much time in bed, as it’s the only place I can comfortably support my knee, and still have easy access to the bathroom, internet, and television (though I’ve mainly been watching DVDs).

After the loss of the clippy thing for my ACE wrap, I tried walking without any support today. Bad idea. I tripped over the dogs more than once, slipped on the wet tile in the bathroom, and re-wrenched everything, resulting in the swallowing of vicodin (left over from a recent root-canal) and a return to bed. I slept a lot today, and wrote some, and read some lovely comforting TNG fanfic. It’s a series I’ve read before but that I really like.

I was invited to hang out with a friend, and part of me really wanted to, but the sensible part of my brain kicked in and realized I was really not fit to be in public. I’ve been whiny and grumpy – things I don’t like being – and just too tired to engage even in the most basic conversation.

The thing is…I quite like solitude. Oh, people are great, but I have a great need for significant amounts of alone-time. If I wasn’t in pain, I’d probably still be playing hermit this week, I’d just be more cheerful and more productive.

Maybe it’s because I’m an only child, or maybe it’s because for much of my life I was the only kid surrounded by adults, but I’m perfectly content inside my own head. I think that’s why I write – if I didn’t, I’d be schizophrenic – there are so many voices inside my brain, but I turn them all into characters and observations.

The same friend suggested yesterday (I think) that I should go do some people-watching, to break myself out of myself, and I responded that in my current mood people would merely piss me off. That wasn’t quite true, just the only way I could voice it. It would be more accurate to say that I was feeling the need to be insular, and that any people encountered would have felt overwhelming.

I don’t slip into this hermitish mood very often – at least, not this far into it – but when I do, it never lasts longer than a week.

Tomorrow is day three. We have plans in the evening. I hope I can find the energy to be sociable. I think prospects are good.

As Easy as Learning to Fly


The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has much to say on the subject of flight.

There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. Pick a nice day, the book suggests, and try it.

The first part is easy. All it requires is simply the ability to throw yourself forward with all your weight, and the willingness not to mind that it’s going to hurt.

That is, it’s going to hurt if you fail to miss the ground. Most people fail to miss the ground, and if they are really trying properly, the likelihood is that they will fail to miss it fairly hard.

Clearly, it is the second part, the missing, which presents the difficulties.

I haven’t attempted flight in the past few days, but I have managed to re-injure a knee I twisted while boarding an America West plane several years ago. It’s not a bump, but a lateral stability issue – I can be walking in a straight line, and suddenly my right knee will decide it feels like turning. I am, therefore, trying to keep it elevated and wrapped, and not to make any twisting motions, which only exacerbate the issue. Have you ever tried doing dishes without twisting a bit? It feels ridiculous to have to actually, consciously, take steps to travel the two feet from sink to dishwasher, and yet, if I don’t, there is a crunchy sound and a flood of hot pain.

One problem is that you have to miss the ground accidentally. It’s no good deliberately intending to miss the ground because you won’t. You have to have your attention suddenly distracted by something else when you’re halfway there, so that you are no longer thinking about falling, or about the ground, or about how much it’s going to hurt if you fail to miss it.

It is notoriously difficult to prize your attention away from these three things during the split second you have at your disposal. Hence most people’s failure, and their eventual disillusionment with this exhilarating and spectacular sport.

If, however, you are lucky enough to have your attention momentarily distracted at the crucial moment by, say, a gorgeous pair of legs (tentacles, pseudopodia, according to phyllum and/or personal inclination) or a bomb going off in your vicinty, or by suddenly spotting an extremely rare species of beetle crawling along a nearby twig, then in your astonishment you will miss the ground completely and remain bobbing just a few inches above it in what might seem to be a slightly foolish manner.

The thing about ACE bandages is that they are rendered useless if you lose the little clippy thing. You know the one I mean: It’s a small bit of elastic with grabby metal teeth on either end. As if re-injuring a knee in my sleep (oh, did I not mention that bit?) isn’t talent enough for you, I managed, during a two hour nap yesterday, to lose the clippy thing.

It was on the bandage, holding it in place when I got into the bed around 3:30 PM, no longer able to remain vertical. When I was awakened by hungry dogs playing kissy-face and sitting on my hair, the bandage was no longer fastened.

But wait, there’s more!

The clippy thing had disappeared.

Fuzzy and I searched the bed, the floor around the bed, and the pajamas I’d been wearing in the bed, as well as the dog’s fur, and the path from bedroom to kitchen (and back) (because I’d limped across the house to let said dogs out just as I was preparing to nap. We even went over the entire length of the ACE wrap, just in case it was still attached.

Nothing. Nada. It’s as if there is a tiny wormhole somewhere at the foot of my bed that is designed solely to eat the clippy things that come with ACE wraps.

This is a moment for superb and delicate concentration. Bob and float, float and bob. Ignore all consideration of your own weight simply let yourself waft higher. Do not listen to what anybody says to you at this point because they are unlikely to say anything helpful. They are most likely to say something along the lines of “Good God, you can’t possibly be flying!” It is vitally important not to believe them or they will suddenly be right.

Waft higher and higher. Try a few swoops, gentle ones at first, then drift above the treetops breathing regularly.


Speaking of wormholes, there is apparently a second one in my room, inside my nightstand, because while we were looking for the Mysterious Disappearing Clippy Thing (TM), I found – and I am not exaggerating this number – seventeen contour clips, the sort of elongated metal hair clips that are horrendously ugly but do a great job. You see them a lot in the hair of gymnasts and figure skaters (of which I am neither), and, I didn’t think I even owned more than ten of them.

But evidently I do.

What I do not own, at least, not any longer, is a partly eaten bag of chocolate cherry kisses, but this is my own fault. No, I did NOT eat the entire bag. I stupidly left it on the Nightstand of Doom, forgot it was there, went with Fuzzy to fetch dinner last night (because the roast I’d taken out was steadfastly refusing to defrost), and came home to find a trail of red tin foil scattered from nightstand to garage door.

The dogs are showing no adverse effects.
I hope they liked their little treat.

When you have done this a few times you will find the moment of distraction rapidly easier and easier to achieve.

You will then learn all sorts of things about how to control your flight, your speed, your maneuverability, and the trick usually lies in not thinking too hard about whatever you want to do, but just allowing it to happen as if it were going to anyway.

You will also learn about how to land properly, which is something you will almost certainly screw up, and screw up badly, on your first attempt.

There are private clubs you can join which help you achieve the all-important moment of distraction. They hire people with surprising bodies or opinions to leap out from behind bushes and exhibit and/or explain them at the critical moments. Few genuine hitchhikers will be able to afford to join these clubs, but some may be able to get temporary employment at them.

I’m caught wondering if the wormholes work in reverse. For example, if I make an offering of a contour clip (or twelve) at the foot of the bed, will I wake up from a nap to find seventeen ACE bandage clippy things on my nightstand?

I don’t even need seventeen.

One will do.

And really, how difficult can it be to appease the gods of small shiny objects?

What? What’s that?

It’s as easy as learning to fly.

*Quoted passages taken from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams.

Concerto for Double Bass, by John Fuller

He is a drunk leaning companionably
Around a lamp post or doing up
With intermittent concentration
Another drunk’s coat.

He is a polite but devoted Valentino,
Cheek to cheek, forgetting the next step.
He is feeling the pulse of the fat lady
Or cutting her in half.

But close your eyes and it is sunset
At the edge of the world. It is the language
Of dolphins, the growth of tree-roots,
The heart-beat slowing down.

~ John Fuller

John Fuller is one of my favorite poets. I post his piece “Valentine” almost every year for Valentine’s Day. This one struck me tonight, and I thought I’d share it.

Christmas Eve (Part II: A Tale of Two Churches Redux)

I don’t write about religion or faith all that often. I write about specific things encountered in various churches, and of people associated with them, but I’m hesitant to share my own beliefs here for various reasons. I should preface this huge block of text with the following: It’s a ramble. It’s not well thought out. It’s a collection of thoughts that are bubbling out, and that are valid for me RIGHT NOW, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be equally valid for me next year or even next week.

First, I admit that I am not the best informed when it comes to such thing. My family roots are Italian and Catholic, but my mother had left Catholicism behind by the time I was born, and while I vaguely recall being taken to Easter or Christmas services, and a couple of funerals, when I was a small child, we never did much with church or religion. My mother, instead, taught me by example, to fight for causes I thought were just, to make my own decisions about what I believed. In a way, I grew up without religion, and while this means there are certain cultural references that are not part of my being, it also means that there isn’t any particular dogma that is the be-all and end-all of faith to me. We attended the UU Church in Modesto when my mother and stepfather were first married. I thought the services were interesting, mostly, but resented anything that was a requirement, and had little use for what passed for a religious education program. At twelve, I was so accustomed to being the only child in any gathering, that to be sent to the same class as children significantly younger than I was annoyed me. As well, I wasn’t being taught anything about the history of Unitarian-Universalism, the roots or the meaning of the faith. Was I surrounded by an amazing group of people? Yes. Did they have a clue how to present things to precocious children? No.

Second, my opinions and beliefs are not static, and I’m still learning. I think we’re all still learning. There are elements of Unitarian-Universalism that I love, and elements of Episcopalian/Anglican culture that I love equally. I like the music of the Catholic mass, but have little patience for the politics of that faith. I have a problem with inclusive language, not because I don’t want it to be inclusive – I DO – but because the beauty of poetry, the cadence of phrases, the alliteration, meter, and tone of some really beautiful writing is diminished by trying to make it fit modern sensibilities. I have no issue with writing new pieces using modern language, and inclusive terminology, but the poetic part of my soul, the artistic part of my being, is sometimes offended by the butchery committed on hymns and psalms.

On Christmas Eve, we (Fuzzy and I), participated in two vastly different celebrations of the season. One was the Unitarian-Universalist Christmas Eve service at UUCOC, which was satisfying socially, spiritually, culturally, and artistically, even if I did stumble over the funky words to familiar carols; the other was midnight mass at the local convent. You can’t get much more diametrically opposed than those two experiences.

The UU service involved choral singing, in which people thoroughly enjoyed (or gave the appearance of it) the music. There were readings that reflected personal views on faith and morality (though morality isn’t really the right word – ethics, maybe?), some original, some literary. The homily (in two parts) was both personal and provocative (in the dictionary definition: to cause thought, not in the modern definition: racy and risque). There was a burning bowl, in which we had the opportunity to cast off something negative and ask the universe for something positive, without having to reveal those intimacies to other people. There was gingerbread and wassail for communion – communion of the truest form, rooted in community, in friendship, in joy. There was casual conversation, and no one glowered over offerings of Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or any other Seasonal Greeting du Jour, instead taking everything in the spirit it was offered.

The mass, on the other hand, left me with a feeling of discord. It wasn’t that the service wasn’t lovely – in it’s way, it was. The service we attended was at a local monastery, a home for discalced Carmelite nuns. The sanctuary was built of brick and pink quartzite stone, and felt bright and airy, even at 11:30 at night. The voices of the Sisters, singing carols from behind their grille, were beautiful even though they were terribly pitchy. There’s something about simple song, sung with love, that makes even the worst voice lovely. The greens were modest, but managed to convey reverence for life, and for the season…but…

– But the service used modern forms of language, and I really like the King James Bible. I like that it uses the word forms shared by Shakespeare. I love the poetry of the antique constructs.
– But it was a solemn Eucharist, and I’m accustomed to joyous ones, even at midnight. I wanted the incense, the scent of actual frankincense and myrrh, the bells and pageantry, because the Mystery of High Mass is built for Story, and Drama. Without those trappings, the ritual loses some of its appeal for me.
– But the congregation didn’t sing, either because they were afraid, or because they were too serious, and worship without song feels wrong to me, no matter who or what one is worshiping.
– It is, evidently, possible to make “Joy to the World” into a dirge. A solemn take on what is generally an ebullient song left me feeling incomplete and unsettled.

(On a purely administrative note: I’m spoiled by the tradition that is shared by many UU congregations and Episcopalian congregations alike, of providing a complete order of service that guides you through everything from start to finish, rather than a missal that is divided by date, with the unchanging parts of a service separate from the parts that are time-sensitive. Newcomers and visitors – including myself – are easily confused by the flipping back and forth).

Am I sorry I went to the convent? No. I enjoyed the experience, and the glimpse of cloistered life, and I got to spend part of Christmas Eve with a woman who has become a dear friend. But next year, I’m definitely going to do midnight services with the Episcopalians, instead. If we do it at all. I may not need it – as I said, the UU celebration was satisfying on almost every level.

The thing is – I like the Eucharistic communion as well. I don’t have a problem with viewing God as a trinity or a single entity. (I prefer holy “ghost” to holy “spirit” but that’s another entry entirely). I pick and choose the elements of various religions that appeal to me, and I choose to interpret this is my body/this is my blood as “partake in that which is the essence of life, and the building blocks of humanity, and be in communion with the people and beings who share your existence.” Midnight mass, for me, isn’t so much worshiping Christ as it is a celebration of all Creation. We begin in darkness, we end in darkness, and if we’re very lucky, we get to experience the light during our journey from one to the other.

(As an aside, the King James version of those lines, with the “Take, eat,” cadence reminds me very strongly of Bubbie, and the literary part of my soul finds delight in the strong Jewish voice behind those Christian words.)

Christmas Eve (Part I): Always Room at Darmok’s Inn

One in the morning, and I’m sitting in the dark blogging, even though I have to be awake at 4:30. We have friends sleeping in the guest room. A packing glitch in San Jose stranded them in DFW for the night, and it would be wrong to make anyone stay in an airport hotel at Christmas, or Hanukkah, or, for that matter, any other day, when we have the time and space to let them stay here. I told my mother about it, when she called to tell me the box I sent for Christmas would be available for pickup tomorrow morning (mailing anything to her part of Baja is a bit of an adventure). She told me it was a lovely gesture at Christmas time, and said, “Always room at the inn, right?”

So we drove to the airport, and found our wayward travelers. I’d made a pot of chili, so there was hot food waiting, and we had a nice chat over dinner before toddling off to our respective beds. It doesn’t matter that these are friends we’d never met face-to-face before – we read each others blogs, know intimate details of each others lives, and now, have faces to go with names and usernames. Anyone who thinks net friends somehow don’t count has clearly never been stranded at an airport in December, with no one to call, but a healthy contact list of emailable friends.

Not that they called – I offered. I know if our positions were reversed, and they had the space, they’d do the same. I know most of the folks I know online would, as well. Whether we share the same political, social, religious beliefs, or not, we share the common language of geekiness.

One of my friends here in Texas uses a Star Trek: the Next Generation reference to explain it. She says, “we share the same Darmok,” or “we get each other’s Darmok,” and the thing is, we all do. We may not all have the same list of fandoms, games, favorite iPhone apps, or outlooks on life, but we all have a similar generosity of spirit, one that completely transcends time and space, and allows us to send flowers or text a hug, offer a spare bed, clean up the audio for a podcast, share a video, edit a resume, or just send a supportive email message, with the same ease of any friends who interact solely offline, and in some cases, because interacting through written communication lets us be more candid, the friendships we have grow deeper, ultimately, and we are richer for it.

It’s just after one AM on Christmas Eve. It’s the middle of Hanukkah. It’s a couple of days after Solstice, and it’s the heart of Yuletide. It’s a time to give and receive the gifts of our hearts, hands, and minds. It is a time to spread love and joy. It is a time to welcome strangers as friends, and be open to new possibilities and fresh hopes.

It’s a time to remember that whatever may or may not have happened 2000-ish years ago in Bethlehem, today, tonight, this year, this century, there is always room in Darmok’s Inn.

Merriment and Mishaps

Earlier tonight, I filled the tub with hot water and bubbles, lit the lavender candle I bought at Aveda, the votive I keep in one of the four remaining monogrammed highball glasses that were part of a set my grandparents owned (the other three having been distributed to my mother and her sisters. I’m the favorite grandchild, so I got the fourth), and the pine-scented candle that was a gift from our friends J & B when they were here over Thanksgiving, and had a nice long soak.

Normally on weekend nights, I’ll turn on NPR, but the local station was talking about football (soccer) standings – a relay from the BBC, obviously, and while I don’t mind watching a match now and again, it doesn’t make a good bath mood.

UVERSE, however, is packed full of URGE radio stations, including tI’dhe Holiday Channel, so I turned the television to that station and let Elvis, Johnny, Frank, Bing, Perry, & Nat serenade me while I let a tourmaline-charged “radiance” masque work on my face. I had a book, but really wasn’t in the mood to read. It was enough merely to soak, splash, and sing softly from time to time.

The plan was to finish the bath, have a cup of herbal tea and a slice of banana bread, and then go to bed, as we have pre-church choir rehearsal at 8:30 in the morning, but that didn’t happen, because as soon as I had settled myself against the pillows, with my laptop perched just where I like it, Miss Cleo came racing in from the cold, dark OUTSIDE, to jump on the bed and promptly puke her guts out all over the pillows. Because she’s remarkably talented, she even managed to get puppy puke inside the pillow cases.

While it was about time to change the bed sheets, neither of us had planned on doing so at 11:36 at night.

Now, finally, the bed is settled, the dogs are settled, and I’m about to log off and declare “lights out,” both on this blog post, and this evening.

Good night, everyone.

Scene on a Winter Evening

Kindle the taper like the steadfast star
Ablaze on evening’s forehead o’er the earth,
And add each night a lustre till afar
An eightfold splendor shine above thy hearth.

~Emma Lazarus, “The Feast of Lights”

She holds a single, lit, taper in her hand, and watches the tiny flame dance on the end for a moment before using it to light the rest of the candles on the table. A menorah is glowing in the window, but there’s a Christmas tree sharing the space, neither diminishing the other.

The candles on the table now ablaze, she replaces the taper in one of the mis-matched (on purpose) silver candlesticks she’s had since college, and lifts a hand to brush a stray hair from her forehead.

She hasn’t had time to vacuum the rugs, but the lights are dimmed, the house lit by candle and star, and she knows her steadfast friends are coming for the company, the companionship, not to judge her housekeeping skills.

Her mother taught her well: dinner is warming in the oven, ready, but with no need to rush, hors d’oevres are waiting to be devoured, music just a click away from being played. Her husband comes up behind her in the dining room doorway. “Stop worrying,” he says. “You always worry that no one will show up, and they always do, and they always have a good time.”

She relaxes against him, lets his strength, as solid as the earth itself, kindle confidence within her. “Do you ever feel like you’re just playing at this whole grown-up thing, and that one day you’ll wake up and realize you’re still ten years old?”

He chuckles in her ear. “Trust me, sweetheart, you are no ten year old.”

The innuendo is playful, and she laughs in return. “No, I know. But…do you?”

“Never,” he says.

He turns her, in his arms, so that she is facing him, and seeing the love in his eyes sets her heart ablaze all over again. “Never?” she asks, disbelieving.

“Never. When I was ten, I hated girls.”

They share a laugh that turns into a kiss, and for a fraction of a second they flirt with more, but the doorbell rings, and they pull apart. She heads for the door, but he catches her hand and pulls her back, using his thumb to wipe the smeared lipstick from below her lips. “Later…” he says, and she knows exactly what he means.

“Count on it.”

* * *
Written for the Cafe Writing Holiday Project, Option Two: Pick Three.

Wexford Carol

I don’t remember when Celtic Woman became part of my musical vernacular, but I know that I love their sound.

Instead of a text post today, I offer this video, culled from YouTube, of their performance of the Wexford Carol. It’s a new favorite of mine, though my preferred performance is by Yo-Yo Ma & Alison Krauss. That video isn’t embeddable but can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GMaubOI5flk.

Meanwhile, here’s Celtic Woman:

Indistinguishable From Magic

A 2008 Best of Holidailies Selection. Thanks, Holidailies Reviewers!

That’s the thing with magic. You’ve got to know it’s still here, all around us, or it just stays invisible for you.
~Charles DeLint

The Cafe Writing Holiday Project asks us to write about seven magical things in our world…

  1. Plastic Christmas Trees: Fresh from the box, they look every inch a fake tree, but once they’re decked in lights and ornaments, positioned in the window in just the right way, wrapped in a skirt, and playing host to presents, they become as real as the trees that grow from the earth. As they age, plastic trees even drop needles.
  2. Crayons: The texture of the paper wrapping, the scent of the wax, the colored strokes across paper, rough or smooth – there’s something so innocent about it all, and so amazing as well, in the possibilities they represent.
  3. New Nightgowns: Whether plain or lacy, cotton or satin, or not a nightgown at all, but brand new flannel pajamas, new nightwear makes you feel sexy or sweet, cozy or carefree, depending on the weather and the style. A new nightgown at Christmas has long been a family tradition. (This year, mine is red and strappy.)
  4. Cookie Dough: Sugar, flour, vanilla, spices, love and magic. Mix it up, roll it into balls, eat half of it raw, and then bake the rest.
  5. Hot Chocolate: There are coffee moments and tea moments, but once the weather turns chilly and the skies turn gray there is nothing more magical than a steaming mug of hot chocolate. Garnish with whipped cream or marshmallows, stir with a candy cane or a chocolate coated spoon. Sip alone while curled up by the fire, or around a table full of conversing friends. It warms your heart as much as your belly.
  6. Fog: This is nature’s soft-focus lens, and it makes everything seem a little less harsh, blurring edges and softening lines. Lights twinkle more in fog, whether they’re traffic lights or holiday lights, and fires seem to crackle more. Fog is a soft cotton blanket, one more layer between yourself and cruel reality.
  7. Laughter: It turns a shy child into a witty conversationalist, a wallflower into a star, and a dull day into an amusing interlude. Best shared with others.