Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hot-Flashed Funk Is Moving!

Update:    I am back on Blogger!  If you'd like to see my posts from 2009 and the first part of 2010, you can go to  I decided that moving back here will give me more leeway to try all the cute template layouts that seem to be available to Blogger blogs but not to Wordpress blogs.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Wonderland for One Brief Night

Oh my, it was so lovely here a few nights ago. The snow was coming down in big, wet flakes and transforming our Central PA "blah" landscape into a real winter wonderland. For some reason (and don't say "global warming"), we haven't had much in the way of winter weather the past few years. I suspect it is because of how we are geographically located.

We are far enough south in Pennsylvania that the temperatures are often too warm to bring snow and instead, we get rain. Bummer! We also have a ridge of mountains to our west and north. Usually, if a weather system is moving from west to east across the Midwest, when it reaches our little mountain range, the snow gets dumped on the western side of the hills and by the time it makes it to our side, it has fizzled out. The only time we really get blasted with snow is when two things happen.......1. The temperatures are cold enough and 2. The weather system is coming from the south. Yes, when we get a Nor'easter, it's a doozy.
But like I was saying, these last few years have been gray and cold and often rainy but that's usually about it. So I was thrilled to see the snow shimmering in the Christmas lights and had to run outside to take some pictures. Sadly, the next day it warmed up and soon our little snowfall had melted away.
You realize, of course, that I've probably jinxed our neck of the woods by saying we don't get much snow, especially since I have to do jury duty right after New Year's. The last time I had jury duty, we had one of the worst winters on record. We had snow and ice storms every Wednesday and Saturday that winter, it seemed. At the time, we were living on top of a steep hill overlooking a valley and I had to drive over 20 miles to get to the courthouse each day. I was petrified, never knowing if I'd make it down or up the hill or to the trial on time. But God was good and I survived. Let's hope the white stuff holds off until mid-January, at least.
Stay warm, everyone. The wind is howling outside my window like a banshee. You'd think we were in the middle of a blizzard but there isn't a bit of snow on the ground. However, our reindeer have lost their antlers repeatedly tonight and we just had a Christmas tree topple outside. So the reindeer have come into the barn, er, garage temporarily for the night.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

In Defense of the Christmas Newsletter

Well, I'm done with the annual Christmas newsletter. The cards have all been addressed and stuffed and are in the mail. That's always a chore that I'm happy to see to completion because the whole shebang has a tendency to take over our dining room table and my free time until it's done.
I used to try to write a handwritten note in each card in addition to including our newsletter but have finally decided, in the interest of expediency and my sanity, that the newsletter is enough. My mother would groan at this since she always insisted that you had to write "the note" but I'm breaking free from that expectation. "I'm not writing the note, Ma!"
Speaking of my mom, it was always a BIG production at our house when I was growing up as my mother would try to get the Christmas cards out on time. Inevitably, they'd make it into the mail by Easter. It's because she had to write in every card, you see. First Mom would agonize over writing her newsletter. She wanted to make sure that no one was left out in the mentions no matter how insignificant a part they had played in our year. Then she'd want to make sure that her grammar was "spot-on." Once I could type, she'd keep me busy for weeks typing up the rewrites. When the time finally came to address the cards, we'd all gather at the dining room table and form an assembly line. Whoever had the neatest handwriting would address the envelopes. Mom would reread her notes and then pass the card to the newsletter folder and stuffer . That person would neatly fold the newsletter and place it inside the card. It was then passed on to the envelope addresser who put the card into the envelope, licked the back flap and sealed it. Finally it was handed to the stamp licker who licked the stamp and placed it neatly in the upper right-hand corner and then gave it a good pop with their fist. No one wanted to be the lickers but since there were only four of us, two always got stuck with those tasks and usually ended up green around the gills because Mom typically sent out 200 - 300 cards every year. God bless the Post Office for inventing peel-off stamps.
Despite my early memories of the family newsletter, I've been sending out my own Christmas newsletters ever since I left home. I like doing them and it has become fun for me to see how I can come up with different and creative ways to get out the news to family and friends. This year, in addition to our newsletter, I made up two photo collages using my Storybook Creator photo editing software and sent them off with the cards. I think it's always fun to see how other folks have changed over the see how their kids have grown up. I don't care whether the photos are xeroxed onto a newsletter or actual photos. I just enjoy them either way.
I know that there are people who deplore getting Christmas newsletters. Let me just say that I am not one of them. I love opening up a Christmas card and seeing a newsletter tucked inside full of all sorts of events that have taken place in folks' lives over the past year. For many, that's the only contact I have with you each year, simply because you've moved out of the area or live too far away to visit and your lives are too busy to write or call on a regular basis. This is my chance to stay connected with you. It is so disappointing to open a card from a friend or relative who lives far away and only see a signature. I'd almost rather not get a card at all.

So I'm begging you that Christmas letter this year. It doesn't have to be handwritten. Typed up on the computer and printed off and copied is fine. The important thing is that it contains news of what you've been up to. And if you want to email it to people instead of mailing it, that's fine, too. Either way, you're moving beyond the cursory and sharing a part of yourself this Christmas season. And if your letters are late and don't make it out until Easter? Hey, you'll just be increasing my joy this Easter season.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

And Then I Was Five

I was bustling around the living room, putting up Christmas decorations when I unearthed the old fiberboard creche in the bottom of a box. It was folded up and stored in a ziploc bag but I could see that most of the pieces were still there. For several years now I'd passed it over in favor of a spiffy 3-dimensional folk art creche designed by Jim Shore. But this year, for some reason, the new and spectacular didn't appeal to me. I wanted to see the old creche again.

I remembered my mother telling me that it had come from Germany which had linked it forever in my mind with the story of the origins of the carol "Silent Night." Franz Gruber and Father Mohr had composed the piece in Austria but it had been sung in German and I had learned it in German as a child. Hence my connecting the piece with Germany.

Each creche piece has a slot in the bottom that fits into a corresponding pop-up tab on the base. The tabs have become limp over the years and some of the figures tend to list a little but they are still standing. Originally, we had a Christmas tree light that was carefully fitted into the hole of the stable roof and my father would plug that light in at night. Its glow would flood the stable with a radiant light. The stable is so rickety now that I don't dare try putting a light on the roof but I still remember it.

I decided to set it up on top of the old china cabinet. That way it would be right at eye-level and out of the dog's reach. First I put down the base and then set up the two background pieces. The walls of the stable came next. The walls had originally been all one piece but one wall had torn off. However, if I balanced it just right and then put the roof on, it would stay upright.

Once the stable was intact, I carefully positioned the back fence with the donkey and the cow looking over the rail. That had always been my favorite part growing up because of our dairy farm background. It was a particularly handsome cow.

The shepherds and the sheep were the next to be positioned. I noticed that the set was missing a shepherd and a sheep, according to the labeled tabs, but I still had enough so that they looked well-represented. Funny, I had never noticed before that the older shepherd was carrying a type of of my favorite instruments.
I vaguely recalled that bagpipes had not been the sole invention of the Scots. Perhaps the Germans had also used some type of bagpipe in their musical celebrations?
Then it was time to place the Wise Men. As I slipped them into their tabs, I thought of the gifts they had brought to the Christ child, each gift foretelling the baby's future role and even, death. Gold symbolized Christ's kingship, frankincense stood for the anointing oil of the priesthood and myrrh was an embalming oil used at death. Thank God the death was only temporary or we wouldn't have much reason to put up a creche scene, would we? The artist responsible for designing this creche had included a black Wise Man. According to Medieval legend, Balthasar came from Ethiopia and was often depicted as an African or Moor.

Once everyone was in place, including the Holy Family, a curious thing happened. Suddenly I was five years old again.....looking at the creche and filled with all the wonder I had first felt as a child. I walked over to the china cabinet and grasped its curved top. I was just tall enough that my eyes were able to peak over the top of the cabinet and I could look straight into the stable.

I didn't see the tabs holding the figures upright. I didn't see the gaps where there had been other figures. What I did see were figures off in the distance on winding roads in the background hurrying towards the stable. I saw a little shepherd boy who probably didn't have much, bringing his lamb to offer to the child. I saw a mother gazing with pride and wonder at her newborn and Joseph, standing protectively beside them. Even the animals seemed to sense that something extraordinary was in their presence. I, too felt the extraordinary. Daddy was in his chair in the corner, reading the Sunday paper. Mom was in the kitchen working on the pork roast and John was napping in his crib. And I,.....I was standing on my tiptoes so that I could see over the top of the table where the creche scene was displayed.

"Baby Jesus is coming," I whispered, wiggling with excitement. "Baby Jesus is coming."

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

That Girl Scout Motto

I grew up with the Girl Scout motto. You know the one....."Be Prepared!" So I was all packed up and ready for a long wait at the Army War College clinic knowing that I was probably going to be facing several hours before my new prescriptions were ready. After all, it was right after a holiday weekend and that usually meant a rush of folks scrambling to get things filled.

I wasn't even worried about facing the screaming babies. I usually sit in the "old f__ts" section where we all look like the retired military folks that we are. The bearing isn't quite as erect as it used to be, hair is thinning and often covered by ball caps that proudly bear the insignia of the units we served with, middles are thicker, and sometimes we doze off and have to be roused by kindly neighbors when our numbers are called. No, I wasn't worried about any wait because I was PREPARED. I had my bag packed with my current knitting project and two hours of wait time was going to be two hours of the sheer bliss of uninterrupted knitting.

I turned in my prescriptions, got my number, found a seat, and settled back to start some heavy knitting that just might finish up my project. I pulled out my partially-finished scarf and reached back into the bag for the other needle and.........I couldn't find it. IT WAS NOT THERE! Do you have any idea what panic swept over me? I rooted through that bag like a woman possessed but NO NEEDLE. With a sinking feeling, I realized that I had left it on the table beside the couch.

Suddenly those two hours loomed before me like an eternity. I had a moment of insanity where I was tempted to go up and down the rows of chairs asking folks if they had a pencil I could put alongside my needle to see if it was a close enough match that it could be used in a pinch as a substitute needle. Reason prevailed.

Just as I was reaching for a tattered ancient copy of Good Housekeeping, my number was called. Not even 20 minutes had elapsed. It was a miracle, plain and simple. Believe me, from now on, I'm checking that bag twice before I leave the house to make sure that all needles are present and accounted for. My former troop leader, Mrs. Marshall would be proud.