Thursday, December 30, 2010

Signs of Christmas

The sole holiday decoration inside our house:  The Advent/ Chanukah paper chain.
Each link has a family activity written on it, such as “Read the Christmas story in Luke” or “eat potato latkes” or “sing a Christmas carol” or “light the menorah”.  When we complete that activity, we add that link to the chain.

My favorite part of Christmas:  sending and receiving cards!

Santa had to find room in his sleigh for all this stuff (just the boxes and bags, not the furniture).  This is what happens when 13 people get together for Christmas.

 But here is the list of the REALLY important stuff we wanted to take to our destination.  You can see where our priorities lie.

This is the sign which appears every year on Christmas Day.  For some reason it is important to some of the younger members of the family to get up in the middle of the night.   Note that the teenagers feel they share at least one attribute with God.  But I never heard God say “HA!” about it.  I guess that’s the difference between teenagers and God.

Here’s hoping that you all got enough sleep this Christmas, and have seen signs of God’s love.  For me the best sign was that my parents were able to join us on Christmas Eve and Day.  It wasn’t easy for them to travel, given my Dad’s further decline in health due to Parkinson’s disease.  Thanks to God.  Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Snow Globe of Honor

Here in suburbia, we highly prize stability and safety.  There are many people who work to provide this for us, and this post is in honor of them.

At about this time of year, the chemistry teacher abandons his pyromania activities in favor of something more suitable for the season: making snow globes.  This has something to do with chemistry, but I’m not sure what.

This is one of those school projects that is also a parent assignment.  An assignment which my son told me about a full week in advance, and which I promptly forgot about.  So the day before the materials were due, the Common Household husband rushed off to buy some Gorilla Glue, I washed and de-stank a pickle jar, and my son and I were combing the basement for a small toy appropriate to put in a snow globe. 

I had my mind on small aquatic animals or flightless sea birds.  Something that would be appropriate for a cold water environment.  (Wait, was this MY project or his?)

I was just about to go look for the old bath toys, when we found the toy soldiers.  And a toy American flag to go with them.  My son liked this idea a lot.  I said, “Iwo Jima!”  But when he positioned them in the pickle jar lid, it didn’t look like Iwo Jima.  Plus I think Iwo Jima is a tropical Pacific island, no?  It probably doesn’t snow there too often. 

His snow globe has two soldiers on the lookout, guarding the American flag.  And when he brought the finished project home from school, I realized that wherever these snow globe soldiers are serving, it is really cold and snowy.  They are standing in, like, four feet of snow – it comes up to their chests.  When it “snows” in there, the visibility goes down to zero.  At first I thought this was totally unrealistic, but maybe somewhere in the mountains of Afghanistan, there is a lot of snow.

As we approach Christmas, I invite you to include in your prayers these four groups of people who strive to provide stability and safety for the rest of us.  These groups do not cover it all, so feel free to add your own.

1. People serving in the U.S. military and diplomatic corps around the world.
2.  People working to protect and stabilize the global and local environment.
3.  People working to alleviate and even end poverty.
4.  People of any faith or religion or none at all who can see the humanity of the person opposite them, and can therefore treat others with dignity.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Macaronic carol translation

At Christmas-time I like to do a hymn-sing.  I muddle through the songs on the piano, and whoever is around sings. While I was preparing a lyrics sheet for this, I found something interesting about the carol In Dulci Jubilo.  The only lyrics I could find were half-Latin, half-English.   For some reason the adjective for “written in a mixture of languages” is “macaronic,” which prompted the Common Household Son to ask if the hymn was written by Kraft.  In Dulci Jubilo is cool, because mostly the lines rhyme, whether in Latin or in English.

My son is our local Latin student, so I asked him to translate the Latin bits.  The best part was his translation of the second verse (segments in italics were translated from Latin):

O Jesu, little chap, For thee I sing alway;
Comfort my heart’s blindness, O excellent boy,
With all thy loving kindness, O glorious chieftain
Drag me behind you.  Drag me behind you.

I looked for the original, which I supposed to be all Latin, but it isn’t. The original is Latin and German.  We have no German students in the house, so we did not attempt any further translation.  It’s good, therefore, that this carol is available to us in all-English:  Good Christian Friends, Rejoice, or in the original male chauvinist version, Good Christian Men, Rejoice.  (The women couldn’t rejoice because they were too busy wrapping presents.)  Or maybe it has been badly punctuated all these years, and it is supposed to point out a good find to unmarried women looking for a mate:   Good Christian Men!  Rejoice.  

With the original Latin:
1. In dulci jubilo, now sing with hearts a-glow!
Our delight and pleasure lies in praesepio
Like sunshine is our treasure matris in gremio.
Alpha es et O!  Alpha es et O!

2. O Jesu, parvule, For thee I sing alway;
Comfort my heart’s blindness, O puer optime,
With all thy loving kindness, O princeps gloriae
Trahe me post te!  Trahe me post te!

3. O Patris caritas! O nati Lenitas!
Deeply were we stained Per nostra crimina;
But thou for us hast gained Coelorum gaudia
O that we were there!  O that we were there!

4. Ubi sunt gaudia in any place but there?
There are angels singing nova cantica,
And there the bells are ringing In Regis curia,
O that we were there!  O that we were there!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I am not making this up

When I pulled my husband’s car out of the garage on Sunday morning, it made a horrible screeching noise as I was backing up.  Uh oh!  Sounds like brake work is needed.  I pulled forward again, but didn’t hear the screeching.  Backed up, heard it again.  It was loud!  So I went and got My Man because since the Third Century, that’s what a woman is trained to do when the car is making a noise.

He came down, and I gesticulated haplessly at the car.  But he was in his slippers, and preferred to listen from the doorway while I went out and drove the car back and forth to demonstrate the nefarious noise.  I did, but the car purred like a kitten.  So my husband had the privilege of saying to me, “I don’t hear anything,” which is what husbands have been saying to their wives since the Third Century.  I had to admit that I didn’t hear anything either.  So I drove off to church, and the car hasn’t made that noise since then.

I also have okay eyesight. I can tell when there is water dripping from the garbage disposal.  It happened several times last week, and I saw it with my own eyes.  So of course, being a Third Century housewife, I told my husband about it.  He called the plumber and started researching garbage disposal prices. We even had a date at Home Depot to window shop in the garbage disposal section. But the plumber couldn’t come right away.  On my husband’s part, doubt set in. He ran the garbage disposal himself.  No dripping.  And it hasn’t dripped since then.

Today I was out running errands.  I spent over an hour in Target, leaving my poor car to shiver in the windy, snowy parking lot.  This is a different car than the car in paragraph 2, but it must have heard that the joke was on. When I was done, I started to drive home, and noticed a light on the dashboard.  The light was shaped like an elephant foot with an exclamation point inside of it. I wisely continued to drive home, since stopping to look at the car would mean freezing my tailbone off, and I didn’t see any elephants.

I got home, pulled the car in the garage, and phoned my husband, sighing in a Third-Century-woman sort of way.  He agreed that I needed to get it fixed.  But first, I decided to look up the elephant-foot symbol in the car manual.  It turns out it is the “Low Tire Pressure” indicator.  When this light comes on you are supposed to pull over immediately to check your tire pressure.  Oops.  In the dim garage light, I looked at the tires with my keen eyesight, and saw nothing wrong with them.

I am expecting that my husband will come home, drive the car, and the light will go off.   And he will get to say the other thing that husbands have said to their wives since the Third Century:  “It’s all in your head, dear.”

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Humming Along

It’s about time I turned to Advent – we’re already a week and a half into it. Luckily for me, Advent is not a one-day holiday, but a season, a time of anticipation and preparation.  Also a time of realizing that it really is too late to plant the daffodil bulbs.  This year it seems to be a season of excessive talk about Likiweaks.

Last night at dinner, Youngest Daughter asked, “Is there a song that goes, It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas?"  Her Dad replied by singing, “Toys in every store” and I replied by grousing, “Yeah, even the bookstore has been taken over by toys.”  Our daughter decided that was her cue to sing those two lines over and over, forgetting the Common Household ban on singing at the dinner table.

That song talks about preparation of a sort.  The fact is that it began to a lot like Christmas in the stores in about mid-October.  Please, let’s not rush things.  This week I have running through my head a song about a different sort of preparation.

Verse 1
People, look east. The time is near 
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.

I like this Advent hymn because it is grounded in reality (but loaded with metaphor too). Other Advent hymns are more monumental (Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, y’all) which is wonderful, too, but this one takes place right here in my house and back yard.  I guess that’s the point of Advent and Christmas.  It’s like our preacher two weeks ago pointed out: Advent is about preparing for the in-breaking of God’s kingdom on earth.

The first verse starts with a GPS instruction and a calendar reference. “People, look east. The time is near for the crowning of the year”.  I don’t use a GPS, but the calendar rules my life, so this puts me on familiar ground.   Next comes a Martha Stewart admonition, but with mercy built in.  Martha would say, “Make your house fair,” but the poet, wisely not expecting me to live up to Martha’s heavenly standards, adds “as you are able.”  I don’t know about trimming the hearth, but I have been trying to trim certain areas by going to Jazzercize more often in these few weeks before the next festive feast.   The kids usually set the table, so we’re on top of that one.

The other verses (below) are more nature-y: furrows, birds, stars. And wintry – bare earth, frozen wings, frosty weather.  We’ve got that covered too, at the moment.  Last Friday the marching band nearly froze at the football game.  We’ve already got 4 inches of snow on the ground, and it’s only December 9th.  But in the midst of all this cold and bleak stuff, there is hope.  Love is on the way.  I hope so, because what the world needs now is love, sweet love.

At the end of each verse this hymn helps us toward the right attitude about all these preparations – Sing!  You’ve got a guest coming!  Love is the guest!

I must remember that it doesn’t say,
“Shop!  The guest is on the way!”
  “Vacuum! The guest is on the way!”*
“Eat! The guest is on the way!”
It’s good to do all those things in preparation for a guest, but even better if it is possible to sing at the same time.

So whether you are observing Advent, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Football Season, or Garbage Day, how about a song to go with it?  Go ahead – set every peak and valley humming, because...

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas; 
Soon the bells will start, 
And the thing that will make them ring
Is the carol that you sing 
Right within your heart.

*Good thing, because the vacuum cleaner is broken.

People, Look East
by Eleanor Farjeon

1. People, look east. The time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.

2. Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare,
One more seed is planted there:
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
That in course the flower may flourish.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the rose, is on the way.

3. Birds, though you long have ceased to build,
Guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen
God for fledging time has chosen.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the bird, is on the way.

4. Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the star, is on the way.

5. Angels, announce with shouts of mirth
Christ who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley humming
With the word, the Lord is coming.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.

One more light the bowl shall brim

Shining beyond the frosty weather