Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Not for Christmas

I went to the grocery store on my way home from work today. Christmas songs were shuffling on the sound system, and I was enjoying that, even singing along in secluded areas of dairy products and canned goods. Then a song came into the mix that gave me pause; it was Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."

I've noticed lately that this song creeps into some Christmas settings. I guess because it contains the word "hallelujah" people think it's a Christmas song. Well, I'm here to say that it's not. It's a beautiful song; it's just not a Christmas song.

Here are just a few of the reasons I hold this opinion:

1. The word "hallelujah" is not an automatic Christmas reference.

The word derives from the Hebrew and basically means "Praise the Lord."

Even the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah—often heard at this time of year—was not written to celebrate Christmas. The oratorio Messiah is an overview of the whole story of Christ. There are sections of it that are about the Nativity, but the Hallelujah chorus is not one of them. The Hallelujah chorus celebrates the post-Resurrection and -Ascension lordship of Christ. The words come from the book of Revelation.

The two biblical narratives about Christ's birth do not contain the word "hallelujah." Look for yourself at Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 2:1-20.

2. The lyrics of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" have nothing to do with Christmas.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Winter morning in my back yard

We had snow last week, and the temperature has stayed so cold that it hasn't melted. This kind of cold weather happens from time to time in the Pacific Northwest—not every year, by any means, but on the average of every few years.

Here's the creek, looking brown against the snow. Some ice has formed around twigs and branches that dangle into the water.



I love how this tree trunk leans out over the creek then grows upward.



And the red-twig dogwood lives up to its name. I boosted the color a bit in this photo, hoping you can see it.



My dad planted this. The landscaping purpose of a red-twig dogwood is to provide some color during the winter. During the summer, it's covered with leaves, which is fine, too. It gets some tiny blooms and berries.

Here are a holly and some ivy growing up in the shelter of a rosa grotendorst (Dutch for "great thirst"). Whenever I pay attention to this clump of plants, I start singing "The Holly and the Ivy" in my head.



My dad and I always have called the big plant a "groote dorster," but when I searched the name online I couldn't find it; I did find a reference to the rosa grotendorst, so I guess that's the correct name. Whatever its name, or the level of its thirst, it is the prickliest plant in my domain. When I'm driving my lawnmower in the summer, I don't like to get too close because it reaches out and grabs and stabs me. That's why a holly and an ivy are growing under it—because I'm afraid to confront it.

At the southwest corner of the yard, you've got to love this mossy old tree. It's a weeping willow.



Willows have notoriously water-seeking roots. They're good to plant by a water way, but dangerous near your water supply or sewer pipes. This willow is nicely secluded.

And here's an icicle hanging from the rain gutter.



Again, having weather cold enough to create an icicle is newsworthy where I live.

In my opinion—which is so rarely solicited on questions of importance—we've had sufficient ice and snow for this winter, but I see the forecast is for snow on Sunday. However, after that, temperature is supposed to rise well above freezing and rain should fall. Sometimes when we have substantial snow followed by rain, the creek overflows its banks. My back yard is a floodplain. So far the water has never reached my house. The snow on the ground right now is persistent but not deep. I don't think it's enough to flood the creek, but with more snow added in on Sunday that may change. Interesting times.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Serenity now

Today I went to two meetings with hospice nurses, one for each of my parents. My mom is now on hospice; the meeting about my dad was in preparation for when he needs to go on hospice. Starting hospice does not mean death is imminent. It means that death may be expected within six months, and also that the care will focus on comfort, not on prolonging life. But it's a significant step.

Last night and this morning were particularly cold here in Lynden, and the northeast wind—the coldest we know in this region—blew. I woke up and began sneezing uncontrollably. I told my sister-in-law later that it's as though cold has a smell, and that smell makes me sneeze—I smelled it and I could feel the reaction in one particular spot inside my sinuses.† (Later in the day I did discover that a window in the room where I slept was not closed properly, so I had had a stream of freezing outdoor air coming in to my environment all night.)

Once started, the sneezing—as is the wont of my allergies—would not stop. I sneezed and blew my nose through the two hospice meetings. By the time I was headed home, my nose, on the side where I could feel the reaction in my sinuses, was dripping. I had to hold a tissue (napkin, paper towel, whatever) up to my nose to catch it.

I know from bitter experience that when my allergies are out of control the only thing that will stop them is for me to fall asleep. Only then does my system relax enough to stop the madness. Fortunately, I was feeling tired out by the day's experience, so when I got home I found the cracked window and shut it, took some diphenhydramine, covered myself with a quilt, and took a nap, probably for about two hours.

Allergies are aggravated by stress, and I think that mine were extra bad today because I had these two hospice meetings. Those meetings were signposts for a difficult part of the journey. I think my poor, confused body realized something was wrong and sprang to the defense by pushing my immune system into overdrive. There, there, poor body. I know you mean well, but that really didn't help. What you need to do is calm down.

Francis of Assisi called his body "Brother Ass." I guess I could call mine "Sister Stupid." Just now I looked that up in the Catholic Encyclopedia, and it said that, after he wore out his body with mortification, Saint Francis asked pardon of Brother Ass for treating him so harshly. So I also ask pardon of Sister Stupid for my inattentiveness to her needs and again ask that she remain calm.

This is the kind of explanation of my system that gains me laughing disbelief, strange looks, or shakes of the head.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Waiting for the sun

I woke up this morning before 7:00 and it was dark out. By 8:00 it was still dark. Now, at 8:30 it's starting to get light.

Part of the darkness is the heavy cloud cover. I have not looked outside at the sky yet, but I've been hearing the dripping from the eaves that means a consistent, substantial rainfall.

The other part of the darkness is the season. There are three months between fall equinox and winter solstice, and we're about halfway through that period. We're getting to the dark time of the year.

A third factor in the darkness is the clock. Tonight will finally, finally, finally end Daylight Saving Time. We will "fall back" an hour, which means that today's 7:00 a.m. will be tomorrow's 6:00 a.m. When my windows lighten up with tomorrow's morning sun, it will be 7:30 instead of 8:30.

I know I've said before how much I dislike Daylight Saving Time. I hate to "spring ahead" and have to get up and pretend it's 7:00 a.m. when it's really 6:00 a.m. Daylight Saving Time is a fake time. In some ways, time is one of those imaginary things that we all pretend is real, like money. It's a useful tool. But there is a certain physical reality to it in that "noon" is when the sun is at its highest point in the sky. But Daylight Saving Time calls it "noon" one hour before the sun is at its highest point. By what right does our government mandate a change of "noon"? And they really can't. They can call it "noon" an hour before "the sun transits the celestial meridian" (got that from Wikipedia), but they can't make the sun reach its zenith an hour earlier. Under Daylight Saving Time, we all say "noon," and then an hour later noon occurs. Frankly, this is government overreach. Indeed it is Orwellian.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The mind's scenery

So I was sitting at my kitchen table, minding my own business, reading on my Kindle, when I heard a buzzing noise. I hoped it was someone running a weed whacker in the neighborhood, but I soon saw what I most feared: a wasp. It was buzzing around a light fixture in my living room, sometimes bumping on the glass cover.

I fear stinging insects a great deal.

It seemed attracted by the light, so I closed the blinds on all the windows, opened my door, leaving the screen door closed, then turned off the lights. I stood near the light fixture to monitor the wasp's whereabouts because if it disappeared in the house and I didn't know where, I would live in fear.

After a little while it dropped to the floor, then flew to the screen door. I slammed the big door behind it, so it was trapped between the solid door and the screen door. I cautiously re-opened the big door a little bit to see if I dared stick my arm into the space to open the screen door. The wasp had dropped again, this time to the threshold. I opened the screen door, and it flew off.

Hooray. Insect problem solved without my suffering a sting or getting grossed out by having to squish it.

Earlier, I had brought some little decorative items inside from my deck. We're expecting a big windstorm this afternoon and evening, so I cleared up stuff that might blow around this morning. I suspect the wasp was hiding in something I brought it. It probably had gone dormant in the cool fall weather then woke up inside my warm house.

I felt glad to get my deck cleared up for the winter. This spring and summer I never really got it looking even presentable. I tried a couple times--I cleaned out the pond, I bought a few plants--but I never followed through. I never refilled the pond with water (the rain is starting to fill it now) and never re-potted the plants (they've died in the plastic pots they came in). Even plants that survived last winter died of neglect this summer.

The mess and disarray somehow symbolized my emotions this year, as my parents' health has declined. My mom moved from assisted living to a skilled nursing facility, and my dad moved from independent living to assisted living. They are both frail, and it hurts to see them lose their strength. My sadness and anxiety about them, and the time spent responding to their needs, took up my energy and I had none left for nurturing plants. All summer the disorder and ugliness of my deck was a visual reminder of how I felt.

Now, the deck is plain, but it is orderly. It's just like it is any other winter, hibernating until spring. I hope that next spring I will be able to return to my old ways of growing flowers and making a beautiful space out there. And clearing it up, putting away tools I had left out, marking it "finished for this year," is a relief. All I have left is probably a couple more times mowing, when the weather is dry, just to mulch the leaves that are falling and neaten it up before leaving the outdoors to its own devices.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Brush up your Shakespeare

The amount I've been blogging this year has been rather dismal. I have some family matters occupying my time and energy, so I tend to be just too pooped to post.

However, I'll just mention that I went to Ashland, Oregon, last week, to their Shakespeare Festival. I saw, in the following order:

Richard II
Hamlet
Twelfth Night
Timon of Athens
The Winter's Tale.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Not just a city in Rhode Island

I was driving home from work this evening, and I thought of a young man I knew when I was a young woman, and I wondered, What if we had married? Perhaps God brought him into my life to be my husband, but I passed him up. If I had not, I would probably not be living here in Lynden, close to my folks as they deal with their aging issues. ("These golden years suck," was a remark in a recent e-mail from my dad.) I might have children who would be adults by now. When I tried to think of them, I thought, I don't know these strangers. Whoever they might have been, they are not my family right now. Meanwhile, the dear boy who first crossed my mind married someone else long ago and had one or more children. Those children exist, and it is part of God's plan for them to exist, so presumably it could not have been his plan for me to marry their father.

But I remembered Solomon. The only reason he was born was because his parents committed adultery. It was not God's will for David to cheat with Uriah's wife and have Uriah killed. Yet because David sinned, the greatest king in Israel's history was born and became a forebear of our Lord. Every time we screw up, God starts again from that point to work out his purpose.

The grandma who taught me how to cast on and knit.
She also passed along her faith in God.
I think I once heard this idea illustrated as similar to the way a skilled knitter, if she drops a stitch, can pick it up on the next row and weave it into the pattern. I don't know how to do that with knitting. But here are two other knitting examples that I did do.

First, last year I knitted a scarf for my niece for Christmas. At a certain point, I messed up the pattern but didn't realize it until I was further along to a point where I didn't want to unravel so much work. So I completed the scarf with that messed-up section, and, meanwhile, I bought a little loom on which I made some yarn daisies. I sewed the daisies to the scarf to cover the messed-up section and they looked mighty cute. My niece said when she opened her present she thought the scarf came from a store specifically because of the daisies.

More recently I went to a yarn store with a remnant of red yarn from a previous project. I wanted to knit another accessory to match it. But, wouldn't you know it, the red yarn I wanted had been discontinued. So, instead, I bought some charcoal yarn that I thought would look good with the red and planned to use the red remnant for a border and charcoal for the main section. I said to the lady who was ringing up my purchase, "Maybe it will turn out even better because of the new color."

So, no matter whether the choices I've made in the past have been good, bad, or indifferent, wise, foolish, or unthinking, yet from that point on God makes the whole of my life into something better because of it. "He has made everything beautiful in its time" (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Or better yet: "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.... all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" (Psalm 139:13, 16).