29 December 2010

who can turn the world on with her smile?

That is not a rhetorical question, that title up there.

It's a quiz: what TV show's theme song has that line in it?

Another way to phrase that is: what TV show from the 70s am I obsessed with?

I'll give you a minute to think. A clue: It's set in Minneapolis.

Another clue: I used to wake up every morning to the theme song because it put me in that good of a mood. {Note: This clue may not be worth much, unless you've actually woken up with me, and I very highly doubt that you have.}

{Yes, I'm making you scroll down.}

{Doesn't this remind you of those email forwards that inevitably begin with "think of a number between 1 and 100"? Then you go through this whole series of questions,



until you got to the end, and it magically lists the number you first thought of.

And the person you're going to marry.

And the kind of house you'll live in.

And how many kids you'll have.

Wait, that's the game MASH.}

The Mary Tyler Moore Show

I hope you got this right. It's very important to me that you know about Mary.

Today is her birthday—is it just me, or do I seem to be writing a lot about other people's birthdays recently, people I adore but have never met? {Not that I could've met Jane Austen or Louisa May Alcott. I'm still holding out hope for Mary.}

Why I Love The Mary Tyler Moore Show
A Bullet Point List by Kamiah A. Walker
  • I saw the show for the first time when I was 12 or 13. Then, being 30 seemed the height of being grown-up, an idea later corroborated by that 13 Going on 30 movie, where the little teenager wishes to magically become 30 and it happens. Thank goodness I didn't wish to become a 30-year-old in the 70s. I might've been concerned by the hemlines and the lack of computers. {A semi-related question: Do you ever think about what people did in offices before email?}
  • I like that Mary was single and that the point of the show wasn't to marry her off. She went on lots of dates. She even got proposed to once or twice. But the show doesn't end with her wedding. As a 29-year-old single girl, this is especially important. Singleness doesn't define me, but it is fun to watch a show about another single girl.
  • Mary was a cheerleader and in student council when she was in high school. So was I. Up for grabs is whether I did those things because I wanted to be like Mary. Actually, I'll grab that one: I had wanted to be a cheerleader since I was 3; Mary had nothing to do with that one.
  • I got the first season of Mary Tyler Moore on DVD just before I left for France to teach for a year. Many, many a night—when my brain was empty from speaking French and trying to fit in all day—I would slip under the covers, prop up my laptop, and let Mary distract me and show me life in my beloved Midwest.
  • The friendship between Mary and Rhoda is so easy. Popping into each other's apartment. Eating dinner together on random weeknights. Playing tennis on Saturday afternoons. When I first moved to Wheaton five years ago, not knowing too many people, being able to watch their friendship was a comfort—not going to gloss over that fact. Did I live vicariously through TV for a little while? Yes. Mary helped.

    And now I have friends to eat dinner with on random nights, cobbling together a quiche or a salad, and stitching together conversation with threads that have been running through our lives {boys, church, work, frustrations, joys}.
  • When I have a bad day—a really bad day when I have the mean reds and start to take everything that happens as a personal affront—on days like that, I watch a very specific Mary Tyler Moore episode to help me deal: "Put on a Happy Face." It's about this time that Mary has a series of terrible, awful, no-good, very bad days, and she's tired of always having to be chipper little Mary. That one episode gives me the freedom to accept that I don't always have to be chipper little Mia. Plus, it doesn't hurt to laugh. And I always laugh, no matter how many times I watch it.

Please tell me I'm not alone in this obsession, not that you have to share my Mary fascination. I just hope I'm not the only one who uses a TV show—a leftover from an era I don't belong to—to feel better sometimes.

28 December 2010

o thou the central orb

I am of the firm belief that most businesses can close for the week between Christmas and New Year's. I like my job and I would like to believe that it is important, but there is nothing so anti-climactic as logging in to Outlook so soon after Christmas.

The glow of Christmas tree lights cannot be replaced by the computer screen glow—let's agree on that.

I know that no matter when I go back to work—after New Year's or just after Christmas—it will have a dull shine when compared to time off.

True shine is staying up past 10pm watching a movie and sleeping in until 7am—more than 7 hours of sleep and reading as much as you want after everyone else has gone to bed.

Yes, this week between Christmas and New Year's has a dull shine, like taffeta in a rich burgundy color: when the light hits it just right, the color deepens, but most of the time, it has a flat look to it.

I have things to look forward to {that's the light hitting the taffeta just right}: a movie, good runs, writing thank you cards because yes, that is something I enjoy.

But mostly, this week feels like it's trying too hard to be normal. It also doesn't help that my gym is still piping Christmas music into the locker room and yet I saw a display for Valentine's Day at the grocery store; we are in a seasonally confused time.

I am going to counteract the dull shine of this week—when I'm in the office and it seems that no one else is—with a song.

I do hope you've learned by now that if I don't like the way something is going, I try to change it, either with a song or with a good quote or with comfy food. Distracting yourself just a little is an excellent way to trick your mind into accepting what's going on. This is not self-delusion, by the way; it's self-maintenance.

Today's distraction comes from "O Thou the Central Orb"—my choir sang it at our Christmas concert.

I get such a rush of nerdy word love from its words: Gilding. Darksome. Erewhile.

Words like that make me want to rush onto a moor with Jane Eyre, preferably with a storm swirling on the horizon.

But what I'm holding on to in this song during this dull shine week is its images of light breaking through: Radiance bright. Rays divine. Eternal day. Bright beams.

Let there be light. And it was good.

O Thou the Central Orb

O thou the central orb of righteous love
Pure beam of the most High
Eternal light of this our wintry world
Thy radiance bright
awakes new joy in faith
Hope soars above

Come, quickly come and let Thy glory shine
gilding our darksome heaven with rays divine

Thy saints with holy lustre
'round Thee move
as stars about Thy throne
set in the height of God's ordaining counsel
as Thy sight gives measur'd grace to each—
Thy power to prove

Let Thy bright beams disperse the gloom of sin
Our nature all shall feel
eternal day in fellowship with Thee,
transforming clay
to souls erewhile unclean, now pure within

27 December 2010

the sound of music

I came home from home yesterday, the kind of sentence that makes sense at the holidays. I went home for the holidays, but of course my home, the one where my Christmas decorations are and the one where I pay the bills, is no longer in Burlington.

I like to think of myself as a two home sort of person. {Note: It is a dream of mine to one day be able to say "my summer cottage." I guess I could say it now; it just wouldn't be true. My summer cottage. There, a dream come true.}

But before I went back to paying the bills and work, I took yesterday as a last stretch of vacation.

Conveniently enough, ABC seemed to be aware of my plan and showed The Sound of Music last night, which is one of those movies that flits through the back of my memory at all times.

I see a fountain, I think of The Sound of Music.

I sing the solfege {do re mi fa so la ti do}, I think of The Sound of Music.

I wear a pretty dress, I think of The Sound of Music.

It's not that I watched it much when I was growing up; I was more obsessed with the Annette Funicello Babes in Toyland. I really just think it's imprinted in my memory because it's one of those epic, everyone-has-seen-it kinds of movies. It's part of our collective memory, collective culture, collective experience {as Americans pretending we were European, perhaps}.

When I was flipping through the channels last night, trying to find something to watch while I sewed, I came across "16 Going on 17," and I immediately wanted to dance on benches.

Because of that song, I have always wanted to dance on benches, leaping from stone bench to stone bench in the rain.

When I was little, I used to make do in the living room, where we had no stone benches. I would jump up and down on the couch and pretend that I was a very grown-up 16 {almost 17} and that someone was singing about how much he wanted to take care of me.

Last night, at a very grown-up 29, I did not jump on the couch, most likely because it is my couch and I want to take good care of it.

Instead, I cut out fabric and sang loudly, which is like dancing on benches in your heart.

23 December 2010

christmas mass at 8am

"There is a winter storm warning for southeast Iowa, starting tonight at midnight and going through Christmas Eve at 6pm. Christmas day, there is a 90% chance of snow."

My grandpa and I were watching TV in his room at Sunnybrook. Not the farm. We did not send my grandpa to the farm with Rebecca. He's at this cozy senior living facility, the kind of place that helps him arrange bridge parties and even makes the Chex Mix for him to serve.

I'd stopped by Sunnybrook on this Christmas Adam {you know, because Adam came before Eve. Religious humor is so appropriate this time of year}, and Grandpa and I were discussing Christmas plans.

"Well, it's going to be snowing on Christmas." My grandpa did not sound enthused about this.

"I know! It'll be a white Christmas!" I practically had tinsel in my voice. Given how less-than-excited my grandpa sounded, I decided to overcompensate by trying dredge up memories of Bing Crosby and that Frosty the Snowman cartoon, all with the twinkle in my voice.

It didn't work.

"And I have to go to Mass at 8 that morning, damn it!"

If he'd had a beer in his hand at that moment, he would've been the picture-perfect stereotypical Catholic. Committed to the ritual, if a little bitter about it.

He will be there to celebrate the Baby Jesus' birth because that's what you do. You get some Holy Water, kneel to the Virgin, say some prayers, and eat the Body of Christ. It's what he does every week; the only thing that's special about this week is that Mass is at 8am. Damn it.

The frankness is what is so appealing. So many of us—myself at the very front of that list—like to put on a happy face. We are Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, thinking that we have to like everything that's happening. Or at least look like we do and talk like we do.

Now, there's something to be said for finding the good in every situation, and I am a huge proponent of that.

There's also something to speaking positively about a situation where you need an attitude adjustment: I believe this is the "fake it until you make it" principle. Talk as if you're okay with what's going on, and soon enough, you will be.

But there's also something to a quick volley of honesty, allowing yourself that shot of disappointment or anger or sadness. Or frustration that you have to be at Mass at 8am.

You say, "Now here is what I'm feeling," and then you find that recognizing the negative brewing within you actually weakens its charge.

I believe there's room for both reactions in all of us. Room for Rebecca and room for that flash of negativity.

There was just no room at the inn and now we have to go to Mass at 8am to remember that, damn it.

{Sorry about all the cursing in this post. I don't normally use bad words, as evidenced by how I still refer to them as "bad words," as if I were a little girl categorizing the world. But you can't tell a story about my grandpa without getting in a few bad words.}

21 December 2010

a stable-place sufficed

Tonight is the longest night of the year, the kind of night that makes you think phrases like "dark night of the soul" while you pull a blanket around you and try to figure out how to drink wine and simultaneously keep your arms under the blanket where it's warm.

{Idea: Use one of those beer hat things, those contraptions made for frat boys at football games. Or perhaps rednecks while deer hunting, I don't know. It does free up your hands, but I think sipping a Medoc out of a straw descending from a trucker hat might—perhaps—cut down on the classy factor of feeling very introspective and yet connected to humanity here on the longest night.}

{Idea Again: Have wine before crawling under blanket. Because wine is, apparently, essential for me in this scenario.}

Tonight also makes me think of that Christina Rosetti poem "In the Bleak Midwinter," even though midwinter is technically February, that most horrific and draining of months.

My choir sang that song at our Christmas concert a few weeks ago. I love those clear, cold lines Christina wrote—letting us sing about how Heaven couldn't hold Jesus any more and so he came here to a stable-place {that hyphen makes a difference, doesn't it? Without it, it says that Jesus came to a stable world, when really he came to bring stability to our instability.}

But as much as I adore that song, it has always bothered me that Christmas isn't in the midwinter; it's barely in winter. {As a sidenote: yes, I understand that Christmas is essentially a made-up date, and no, we don't know that Jesus' birthday was December 25. I don't think they had a month called December back then.}

Winter starts today, and so by the time the real midwinter comes, I'm a bit worn jagged by the frosty winds and snow falling, snow on snow. {You may have been able to guess that's how I feel by February, given how I described it above.}

Weather terminology aside, it's the emotion of midwinter that Rosetti was going for, of course. That irrational fear that spring will never come again, that you will never be warm again, that flowers will forget how to grow.

In the midwinter, you focus on the darkness, and so "In the Bleak Midwinter," Rosetti is telling us—remember those dark nights of your soul? Remember when you weren't sure if any happiness could take root in your heart? Remember when it seemed like the black around you would not end?

And then think of the light, the light you know is coming.

Tonight is the longest night of the year, which means that tomorrow night will be a minute or two shorter. And the next night a minute or two shorter than that. On and on until it's that time again when you can take a walk at 9 at night and still be in the light.

Christmas comes just at that time when the night is starting to turn into day. How fitting. What a thing to celebrate. Perhaps with wine.

In the Bleak Midwinter
Christina Rosetti

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

16 December 2010

in honor of jane austen's birthday: be the elinor

Jane Austen is 235 today, and judging from her author portrait on the dust jacket of Sense and Sensibility, she's looking good for her age. I can only hope to look that good, should I ever decide to wear a bonnet like that.

Seeing as Jane Austen is in my blog title, I feel like I should be doing something more monumental. I mean, if I thought I should throw a birthday party for LM Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott a few weeks ago—my gosh, for Jane Austen, my witty inspiration, I should've embroidered something or arranged a piano-forte concert or adopted a British accent for the day.

But I didn't.

People might think I was, I don't know, slightly confused about the line between truth and fiction if I made such ado about Jane.

Instead I will honor her in a small, more appropriate way—which is, I have to say, something I learned from Jane Austen. Small actions can be significant.

Elinor Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility is the one who taught me that. A friend and I used to have a saying: Be the Elinor.

I think you'll readily see why in this Jane excerpt {see, this is me honoring her with a little excerpt}:

Elinor, this eldest daughter whose advice was so effectual, possessed a strength of understanding, and coolness of judgment, which qualified her, though only nineteen, to be the counsellor of her mother [...]. She had an excellent heart; her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong: but she knew how to govern them.

Be the Elinor simply meant: Control your emotions. You do have them, of course—we all have them, but some of us choose to let them govern us. Marianne Dashwood, I'm looking directly at you.

Be the Elinor doesn't mean be an emotional android. Elinor felt strongly and deeply; it was only her reactions to situations and other people that she measured out with moderation.

And there's a good deal of sense in that.

Happy birthday, Jane!

15 December 2010

the work of the weather

Why I don't want to stand up
from this chair
is as obvious as
looking out the window.

It is a Little House on the Prairie blizzard out there,
the white-out
swirling kind
where Pa had to tie a rope
between the little house
and the little barn
so that he could find his way to do
his big chores.

Any weather that involves blindness is not for me.

Sitting in this armchair by the window
under a blanket
in sweatpants from my high school tennis days

Drinking French press coffee
with cream
from a Waffle House mug

Eking out my thoughts
in a journal
with a turquoise pen

That is work enough for me.

The weather is doing most of the work today:
it takes a blizzard-sized effort
snowflake upon snowflake of earth's energy
to keep people like us inside,
without a plan to do more
but get up
to re-fill a coffee cup.

14 December 2010

so much to say

I have so much to say that I don't know where to start, an unusual place for me to be in. Usually, I have an agenda so clearly set—perhaps even for when I'm talking to friends—that this not knowing what to say first is somewhat confusing and tiring.

To make it worse, I have so very little time. After all my pontificating about having a calm Christmas season, a quiet Christmas, a caramel Christmas...after all that, I find myself somewhat stretched for time. Because of Christmas activities.

I have a cookie exchange to go to in 30 minutes, and I just finished typing the recipe for the Chocolate Mint Meltaways I'm bringing. To fit the actual baking into my schedule, I had to make these on Saturday night, listening to Garrison Keillor, which was, I'm sorry to say, a mish-mash of other Christmas episodes of "A Prairie Home Companion" as my NPR station tried to raise money here at the end of the year.

Every time the station people—not Garrison Keillor—came on to plead, I wanted to scream, "But I've already given! Stop telling me to be generous!"

Not exactly a restful, peaceful Christmas thought.

I also hope my cookies aren't dried out and sad now, several days after I baked them. But I tell you, it was the only time.

But I have so much more to say. Much more that isn't about cookies. I want to talk about my dinner party, and how I found a quote in a new book I'm reading—Gone with the Windsors—that made me laugh, thinking about the planning and details that went into this winter dinner party for 13.

I read last night, "We've been worked off our feet all afternoon planning her dinner party. There's so much to do. The menu to be decided and the placement, new table linens and stemware to be purchased, conversational topics to be studies. Wally reads the newspapers cover to cover every day, and she's skimmed through centuries of history and philosophy while having her hair done. She says one hardly ever needs to plod through an entire book."

That is not how I planned for my dinner party; I did not read one philosophy book in preparation, but I want to tell you more about what it was like to sit at the head of a long table, 12 friends lined up {6 on each side}, everyone smiling and looking their most beautiful in candlelight.

And then there's my birthday. My publication party last week. Oh, yes, I need to tell you what ended up getting published...!

You see I'm overwhelmed and distracted. In a very fitting example of how stretched thin I am, I will share what I did this morning. Before work.

I didn't go running because I needed to work on my mother's Christmas present. At 5:45, I was sewing away {that is the only hint you'll get, Mother}, coffee steaming next to me, and ice on the sidewalk outside.

The Christmas tree lights were on—that's the first thing I do every morning, actually. I rush out to the tree and plug them in. That is a moment of hushed expectation.

NPR was giving me conversational topics for the day, along with fun updates on the wind chill: "It's 3 degrees out with a wind chill of 10 below."

This morning, I did laundry, ironed, paid bills, sewed, set aside a pile to take to the dry cleaners, got started on thank you notes, and then I went to work at 8:30.

I felt exhausted before I walked in the door, and yet I knew that if I didn't get some of those things done, I would feel even more exhausted with the weight of an undone task.

I should go. I should go. There's dinner to be eaten before the cookie exchange. But I just wanted to quickly say: I have so much to say, but I cannot find the time to say it and I hope I'm not alone in that feeling.

And I don't want this feeling to last until Christmas.

07 December 2010

i have something to brag about. i think.

A short list of things I am not good at:
  1. quick mental math
  2. dancing, at least the non-structured kind. I will gladly tango any day, but do not make me re-visit memories of high school dances. Pretty dresses, yes, but bad music I pretended to know while I danced awkwardly with my date, no, never again.
  3. bragging about myself
I especially struggle with that last one, which is probably a good thing. Nobody like a braggart. {But braggart is a very fun word to say. And type. Try it. It reminds me of Bogart.}

I'm rather good at bragging about other people. For example:

My sister—it's her birthday today—is one of the smartest people I know. She does a job I don't entirely understand, partly because it's a top secret Air Force job and she can't tell anyone what she really does, but also because it involves physics and I remember just the basics of physics.

Here's a re-enactment of a conversation we had at Thanksgiving, complete with my inner monologue:
In Kamiah's Head: I like her t-shirt. It has a kitty cat on it. Since we are so divergent in what we wear, I should compliment her on her clothing choice.
Kamiah: Ooh, your shirt is cool.
Sister: Thanks! Funny reference to Schrodinger's cat, eh?
In Kamiah's Head: OMG, who is Schrodinger? Was that the name of the bad guy on the Smurfs? He had a cat, right? A cat who tormented the Smurfs? Does the cat on her t-shirt look anything like a Smurf creation? Why isn't it blue?
Kamiah: [utter silence that lasts for too long, followed by a guffaw] Yeah, funny.
Sister: Yeah, is the cat dead, or what?
In Kamiah's Head: OMG, they killed something on a children's show??!!?
Sister: Ahh, entanglement.
Kamiah: Hey, think you'll see that movie Tangled? I heard it's the last fairy tale Disney will ever do.
In Kamiah's Head: Please please please please please let her be distracted by that.

{Note: If you remember as much as I do about Schrodinger's cat, you can learn more about it here.}

So yeah, my sister is super smart and does lots of super top secret smart things in the Air Force. She may or may not also have a cat. It might be dead. Which is sad. But happiness: it's her birthday today!

But I still struggle to brag about myself.

Right now, I have some brag-worthy news, but my dang Midwestern modesty is getting in the way.

Therefore, I'll simply bulldoze through the modesty with my directness: I submitted some of my writing to a local literary journal, and it got accepted.

There, that wasn't so bad, although granted, that wasn't bragging so much as simply announcing.

But yeah. I'm getting published.

There's a publication party tomorrow, which—and you're under no compulsion to know this—is my birthday {yes, my sister and I have back-to-back birthdays—two years and five hours apart}, so I'm thinking of this party as a birthday party all for me.

I hope they have those little smokies. Ooh, and maybe a cheese tray. Perhaps some sort of cake, as well.

I submitted four pieces, but I don't actually know what they accepted. Perhaps all of them. Perhaps just one. I'll let you know. In a non-bragging sort of way.

In a helpful sort of way, here are links to what I submitted, should you want to review them and think, 'Would I publish this?'

{This thought is especially helpful if you're a publisher. Let me know if you are, and I'll save you a piece of cake from my birthday party/publication party. That's my way of bribing you.}

delayed pleasure {a poem}
tell me again {another poem}
about my mother's tattoo {a funny, funny piece about, obviously, my mother's tattoo}
some like it hot {about the time i learned i'm not a handyman}

I have to admit, there is a small part of me that would like to brag, so I'm going to put it in small type. Maybe you won't even read this, and then I don't have to feel guilty for bragging.

Oh my word, oh my word, oh my word! Someone who is not my mother read something I wrote and decided it was pretty okay!

And they want other people to read it!

I know it's just a local thing—it's called the Prairie Light Review, by the way—but does that even matter? You have to start somewhere, right?

I'm going to be officially published, and on my 29th birthday, which seems like it must be significant somehow but I don't want to try to think too hard about symbolism right now.

I also don't want to think too hard about other people who had published a lot more by their 29th birthday because comparison is a1a) not really part of bragging, b2b) never helpful {unless you want to help yourself into a cranky mood}, and c3c) certainly not appropriate on your Birthday Eve.

So yes: I'm getting published, and I'm a little smile-y about that.

Thank you for letting me brag a little bit. Also for reading my stuff. Yeah, especially for that.

05 December 2010

birthdays and a sharp tongue

I realized that I've been writing about Christmas a lot recently—well, 'tis the season and all that.

However, I'm taking a break from Christmas today, and instead going on a little literary diversion.

Did you know that LM Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott's birthdays were last week?


Well, I didn't, either. Then Twitter, that source of knowledge and wasted time, taught me something. Louisa's was November 29 and LM's was November 30.

I should've had a party, and I am, I must say, slightly disappointed that I missed a chance to have a literary nerdy party.

Next year. There's always next year. I'll start planning my costume now. You should, too.

As if wanting to further cement this LM and Louisa connection—and their separate but similar effects on my life—someone got to my blog by searching "little women and anne of green gables similarities."

Google sent them here, and while yes, I have written a little about both Jo and Anne, I like to think of it this way: Google knows that I am the embodiment of both Jo and Anne. The search results prove it, people. What do Little Women and Anne of Green Gables have in common? ME.

To celebrate—belatedly—I'm offering an excerpt from Little Women, one that has been particularly helpful to me today.

Jo, Anne, and I have this in common: Wayward tongues. Sharp tones. Tempers.

We have the ability to slice with our words and the knowledge that we can cut people down with well-placed verbs.

But we also share an earnest desire to control the sharpness. To use our words to build others up or to make them laugh. To be practiced in the art of thinking before we speak.

When I have days when my tongue has been sharper than a doubled-edged sword {and not in the Word of God way}, that's when I need to turn to Marilla or Marmee. I need to read, in tough love language, that this will be a life-long challenge—this learning to rein in my words—but that it is worth it. That other people struggle with this. That every time you speak harshly, that is an opportunity to speak kindly in apology—to carefully consider those words so that you can suture up the wound you caused in a friendship or relationship.

I spoke out of turn today, but I know that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it {there's my tribute to Anne}. And I need to read again what Marmee says to Jo about controlling her tongue.


"It's my dreadful temper! I try to cure it; I think I have, and then it breaks out worse than ever. Oh, mother, what shall I do? What shall I do?" cried poor Jo, in despair.

"Watch and pray, dear; never get tired of trying; and never think it is impossible to conquer your fault," said Mrs. March, kissing the wet cheek so tenderly that Jo cried harder than ever.

"You don't know, and you can't guess how bad it is! It seems as if I could do anything when I'm in a passion; I get so savage, I could hurt anyone, and enjoy it. I'm afraid I shall do something dreadful someday, and spoil my life, and make everybody hate me. Oh, mother, help me, do help me!"

"I will, my child, I will. Don't cry so bitterly, but remember this day, and resolve, with all your soul, that you will never know another like it. Jo, dear, we all have our temptations, some far greater than yours, and it often takes us all our lives to conquer them...."

02 December 2010

a caramel christmas. but first: shouting.

I have one more way to interpret that original questionwhat is it about a little bit of light that fills us with such wonder this time of year?

It's the Hallmark Channel interpretation. The Hallmark Channel brings the Currier and Ives print to life and then plays it on repeat from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Lifetime does this, too, and I think ABC Family is also playing Christmas movies non-stop.

The Hallmark Channel symbolically represents the all-Christmas-all-the-time view that has taken over, and it makes us think that Christmas is about more.

For the entire month of December—no, let's admit it, the Christmas "season" starts before Thanksgiving and perhaps even before Halloween in some stores—there's a shouting match for our attention: BUY MORE, SPEND MORE, DO MORE, BE MORE, MAKE MORE PERFECT MEMORIES, EAT MORE, DECORATE MORE.

We start to think we must make room in our hearts for Jesus—and room above the hearth for a 52-inch TV. Because if we don't buy that as a present, then we don't really love whoever thinks they want that.

If we're not careful, Christmas can become nothing but noise as we listen to those shouts for our attention and money and time.


Christmas is a time when we can more distinctly feel the pull in disparate directions.

The spiritual. The familial. The shopping-al. {Not a word, I know, but I liked the parallel I had going there with the -al. I guess I could've used the word financial. Eh, too late to take it back now.}

The last thing you want to feel during Christmas is stretched so thin that people can see through you, and that is why I encourage you to approach Christmas as if it were caramel this year.

Yes, caramel. Because:
  1. it's malleable: I'm going to sound really trite here, but Christmas takes on whatever shape you give it. You don't have to stick with certain traditions, and you can buck expectations {especially self-expectations}.

    You don't have to craft your own Christmas cards and have them mailed by the first week in December—if you don't want to. You don't have to decorate—if you don't want to.

    You can watch every Christmas movie ever made—if you want to. You can give up something for Advent—if you want to. The point is to shape Christmas as you want it.
  2. but it can also be hard: Hard as in difficult or hard as in rigid. The difficult part we don't need to get into: holidays come with baggage, even if you don't travel anywhere {lame joke}. Let's look at the rigid, as in rigid boundaries. It's important to put up a good fence or wall or some other kind of protective barrier around what you want to do to enjoy Christmas. This may mean that you don't say yes to every party you get invited to—but instead say no knowing that you shouldn't socially max yourself out.

    It's okay to say no sometimes. Some people have trouble believing that, particularly during the holidays when you're supposed to be happy and friendly and cheery all the time, at all costs to your own little soul.

    Because of your little soul, trying hard to truly celebrate Christmas, you do need a bit of a hard edge to your boundaries.
  3. it's made out of basically one ingredient: Christmas can be simple: friends, Jesus, family. What's the one thing about Christmas you enjoy so much?
  4. but you can make it more complicated by adding other things to it: Please scroll back up to the part where I talk about how it's okay to say no to stuff during the Christmas season. When you start trying to please everyone, from your boss to Martha Stewart to Good Housekeeping, you start losing track of how Christmas is supposed to be fun.
  5. it's a challenge to get just right: I don't know anyone who's figured out the best Christmas balance and been able to stick to it every year. Every year, we all need reminders of how to truly celebrate without wanting to slowly pull our own teeth out because that might be less painful than this blessedly exhausting holiday season.
  6. but when you do, man, that's sweet: Literally sweet, in the case of caramel. And in the case of Christmas, you know what moments I'm talking about. The little or big ones where everyone gave a contented sigh at once. The time when you were little and you woke up at 3am on Christmas morning, peeked through the curtains, and saw a bright shining star that looked like it could be the Star of Bethlehem. Whatever sweetness is to you, look for snatches of it this Christmas.
  7. and even if you don't get it right, you most likely still have a good story about you leaning too close to the pan, staring at the sugar, waiting for it to turn the right auburn color, talking to it and demanding to know if it's done yet: Not to sound too much like your mom here, but you can always learn from bad experiences, and later, you may even be able to laugh about them. A bad Christmas does not mean you're a bad person with a bad family and bad friends and a bad dog and bad hair. It just means that you get to try again next year to have a good Christmas.

Merry Caramel Christmas!

01 December 2010

just like a picture print by currier and ives

There's the Currier and Ives way to interpret the wonder that fills most of us during the Christmas season. I call it that—Currier and Ives way—because of that line in the Christmas song "Sleigh Ride." You know, that part that goes:

There's a happy feeling nothing in the world can buy
When they pass around the coffee and the pumpkin pie
It'll nearly be like a picture print by Currier and Ives
These wonderful things are the things
We remember all through our lives.

Most people have no idea what Currier and Ives is, but they equate it with an ideal view of Christmas, this dream of how the holidays should go. In the picture are twinkle lights, children in matching outfits, and a yet-to-be carved turkey.

We put a lot of stock in the Currier and Ives view of Christmas, and we start to think that it's the perfection of the image—the slick presentation of a shiny, happy family—that creates the Christmas glow.

When we build up Christmas like that, we run the risk of disappointment in the actual day because we don't live in a Currier and Ives print. No one does; even Currier and Ives didn't live in one of their freeze-frame views of familial bliss.

The twinkle lights may blow, leaving you with a half-twinkling tree.

The children may squabble over who got the better present.

The turkey, once it's carved, is, I'm sorry to say, a revolting, somewhat-haunting carcass. It is not something you want to leave on your dining room table.

What is it about the Currier and Ives view of Christmas that fills us with such a nostalgic longing, even if our Christmas doesn't turn out like that?

And what can you do this year to make sure that expectations are realistic, held-in-check, not based on an unachievable notion of should?

{That question is asked assuming you're like me and need daily reminders to not let expectations zoom away from you. If you're not like that, please call me immediately and tell me how you do this.}


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