Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Nearly Final Christmas: Recipe for Lowering Stress in the Nick of Time

Okay, so mostly it is my own fault. The kitchen reno had gone on forever, (yes, yes, pictures are coming soon,) and I was determined to have some order in that holy of holies for Christmas dinner. I had been shopping for so long that some people had several gifts too many. Twenty-six individually wrapped parcels, with seven more for the personal care workers who help my mother bathe and dress, had been delivered to the Villa. Two candlelight services were in the offing. I had joined Rob on "kettle" duty as a charitable act towards him and for old times' sake. Various bouts of sickness continued to plague family members. Robbie's christening took place, after having been scheduled and cancelled twice before. And I was losing it. Crying on odd shoulders. Snapping at family. Wanting to fall to the floor screaming. Thinking negatively.

Very negatively.

I knew the signs and those of you who have been down this road know
them also. I called my doctor. This was the verdict three days before Christmas. "Take more &*%$# and go more easily, or be hospitalized for four days over Christmas." Then he prayed with me. Bless him.

I have to admit that hospitalization seemed preferrable to the heaps of work left in front of me. Nevertheless, I swallowed my pills and carried on. I slept as much as five hours in the middle of the day and did what I could when my energy was higher.

This is my recipe for lowering stress in the St. Nick of time. Once again, the items are in no particular order.

1.) Forget the minutia of decorating. No snowy villages. No elaborate manger scenes. Put a small tree on a table with a long cloth, light a few candles and sit in the near dark.

2.) Order baked goods from a good bakery instead of being hospitalized, and make your partner or a friend pick them up on Christmas Eve in the morning.

3.) Limit the time, especially the meal times, that all three grandchildren and their parents will be in your house together. Let an adult child play with the children. Hold the baby yourself, in a darkened quiet room, if possible.

4.) If some gifts aren't wrapped, so what? Just put them under the little tree.

5.) Let someone bring good cheese to go with bread, crackers and fruit.

6.) Cut down on the number of vegetables served with Christmas dinner. The usual 8 or 9 vegetables are not necessary. A squash with a little water will cook very nicely in the slow cooker while the bird is doing.

7.) Scrap the traditions which have seemed so indispensible for years. No midnight smorgasboard on Christmas Eve, after the Candlelight Service. No Christmas morning brunch. Let them eat toast.

8.) Wear comfortable older clothes.

9.) Use stuff already in freezer or pantry:
  • instant stuffing
  • frozen broccoli
  • salad in a bag
  • sparkling drinks

10.) Open presents slowly over the day. Spread out the pleasure. If your mother has some memory problems, she will enjoy looking at her gifts several times and they will give her the same happiness each time. And you can enjoy her smiling.

11.) Let dinner be late. This saves the panic of preparation in the morning when your energy is at its lowest. It also increases the possibility of guests volunteering to peel veggies, set table and make gravy, and decreases the chance of someone yelling the inevitable words, "Board games anyone?"

12.) Never mind that the French doors and kitchen windows need cleaning. It is dark on December 25. No one will notice.

13.) Let others take pictures.

14.) If all the bathrooms were cleaned well before Christmas, let family clean for themselves, or not.

15.) Leave the computer alone, especially if your son-in-law is taking it apart and putting it back together again.

16.) Refuse to do more laundry.

17.) Refuse last minute shopping. Enough is enough.

Hope you all had a blessed Christmas. I had a low key, peaceful time, and will be recovering nicely somewhere warm in the near future.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Christmas Prayer for Our Children

Delight. Innocence. Tenderness. Hope.


for children,
innocent as Bethlehem's babe,
anticipating discovery,
larger worlds waiting.
Once, too,
our infant selves,
untouched by Life,
held promise and potential.

Fulfill your Word, Lord.
Bring in the lion with the lamb.
Keep our children safe from battle.
And since by virtue of humanity
they'll, in due time, grow,
give them clear minds and large hearts.
Let them love without prejudice
and labour without resentment.
May they carry into age,
the unspoiled dreams of youth,
and stand before You at the last,
complete and unashamed.

Humour. Spencer

Mastery. Pleasure. Strength.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Yuletide Sights and Sounds Synonymous

Ah, the strains of brass band playing and Christmas. Sounds Synonymous. Many of my loyal readers, will know that Rob and I served with The Salvation Army for many years as ministers (officers) in congregational and youth work. Our reconnectedness with The Salvation Army has increased over the last two years as Rob has worked in Pastoral Support for officers serving in Northern Ontario and Metro Toronto. While he has been known to solo on the E flat tuba at Christmas kettle stands of long ago, he has preferred guitar in more recent years. Here is an accounting of his experiences while offering support at Salvation Army Christmas kettles this year:

Being in Toronto, and having no scheduled visit for three hours, I volunteered to sing at a Christmas kettle for a Salvation Army officer friend. I truly love doing this but, being older than when I was in my prime kettle singing days, there were also a few surprises and unanticipated wrinkles.

My friend kindly set me up in the exit half of the vestibule at Walmart. Lots of activity – though the loads of parcels in the hands of those going by did present their natural charity with a problem. Their only having two hands meant that many of those who would otherwise have given generously, accelerated their pace or slid by along the opposing wall when in kettle range.

Undaunted, I took out my guitar, raised my music stand, put up New Christmas Praise (red and green), and let her rip. "A starry night" - great kettle song. I was briefly lulled into deep Christmas mystery before reality dawned.
Having read the Army’s latest protocol for kettle security, my friend had been most diligent in assuring that "Kettles must be secured to the kettle stands". At 58.65 years of age, I am not what once I was. A wiser man might have checked the current routine for rest stops, before starting. Three hours loomed. Could I manage a washroom break by lugging guitar, music stand, music, kettle stand, kettle and handouts with me?

I would have approached the Walmart greeter/security guy – but he was a scary sergeant-major type (military, not Sally Ann, who, we know, are all kindly and sympathetic). Moreover, he was busy with ensuring that everything moved smoothly at the front of the store – bringing in abandoned carts – a "tsk! tsk!" look on his face. What would he think of a grown man who hadn’t figured out a way of getting a bathroom break? Besides, he was also regularly called upon to chase down the poor souls whose improperly demagnatised purchases activated the exit alarm. The hapless and dazed shoppers were tracked down and hustled back so that bags and purses could be examined, and their contents compared against the sales slip. Meanwhile, I sang "O Holy Night".

Rediscovering an exhaustive Christmas repertoire was a joy, although I hadn’t played guitar for months. Ergo, no comforting callouses on ends of string fingers. Instead, my digits became so sore that I couldn’t play two consecutive pieces in the same or even related keys. Since C, G, and F are popular song key settings, I was in trouble. Transposition was called for – songs in G became songs in E, songs in C became songs in A or D. ‘Twas a blessing folk went by on the run, or surely they would have wondered why a man was singing every carol either too high or too low.

It got a bit lonely and demanding. Nonstop singing taxes even my iron voice. I soldiered on. At half time, the greeter guy accosted me with, "Bit of a long shift, isn’t it?" I couldn’t really read whether this was from compassion, carol fatigue, or discernment that I was now playing everything in F# minor.

Then, respite. Venturing into "Angels we have heard on high," I was getting to the Glo-ow-ow-ows, when suddenly there was with the soloist, a multitude of the earthly host, praising God and singing "Gloria in excelsis deo." Glory to God in the highest. Three young mothers with lilting Carribean-Canadian voices and five little children had gathered in my corner. Singing heartily, they proceeded to unpack from a huge box a newly purchased baby stroller/ buggy /car seat /carry bed / bassinet /ice dispenser, and to assemble it from constituent parts, right there. As they worked, we choired "Mary’s Boy child", "The Virgin Mary had a baby boy", "Silent night" (their request) and others. It took them about five carols to get the stroller fully assembled and place one child in it, ready to go.

Then the eldest of the children, a sweet little girl of about 5 asked, "Do you know any songs about Santa?" So off the ladies and children went, singing "Santa Claus is coming to town", into the darkening night. What angels they had been for me! I missed them terribly. While they were there I had certainly felt peace on earth, good will toward humankind.

I flew on, solo. After the three hours, my officer friend retrieved the kettle. I packed guitar, music and stand in the car, and headed back to the Walmart necessary. At my final exit, the greeter guy muttered "Very good". Was this reference to my leaving or the concert?

Next day found me kettle singing in Bracebridge. At the end of the shift a father and his young son approached. "We’re your relief", they said. Having not yet read the Army’s memo on security, I took them at face value, thanked them, and we chatted as I packed up gear. With no apparent connection to the Army and living in rural Rosseau, they nonetheless, thought it important each Christmas to do a shift of kettle standing. The rest of the family, mother and daughter, were in Huntsville doing the same thing. The young boy had even invested in the effort by bringing a bag of candy to reward donors! My heart was touched at the intentional way in which this father and mother were impressing into their children’s characters the importance of giving, and supporting worthwhile causes.

Got a few more shifts coming up. But already my Christmas has been "made".

P.S. Three notes:
1.) Nobody was actually caught shoplifting –everybody checked out, and at some points people proceeded into the exit vestibule with their sales slips in their hands, showing them to him as they walked by – like a RIDE check or something. This greeter guy was good.
2.) The mothers left the large box and all packing material in the vestibule which really unmade the greeter’s day.
3.) Callous is forming on ends of appropriate digits. Can more kettle singing be far behind?

Robert Knighton (guest blogger)

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Prie Dieu

Amongst the ever changing furniture at Dawsonwood Cottage is a piece more often found in a chapel. A Prie Dieu. It stands in the corner of my room, inviting me to prayer.

This morning at five, I awoke, still exhausted from an all-nighter of carpet cleaning and present wrapping the previous day. I looked at the Prie Dieu and knelt in my heart and felt Divine Love cradle me. Mentally I wrestled against an urge to 'task' my devotional life. Love rocked me gently, soothing my compulsions. I slept.

The Prie Dieu was my anniversary present this year. The most unusual present received this side of a monastery, you think? Our relationship is something reminicent of Abelard and Eloise. We courted by snail mail in the days before text messaging and email. Some of you will recall that we still do write letters to one another (click on title or link for my Anniversary letter to Rob).
http://dawsonwood.blogspot.com/20052005_10_01 dawsonwood archive.html
Rob, showing his early theological bent, wrote me poems in the style of John Donne, his favourite poet. I must admit to being mystified quite often by Rob's poetry, mixing as it did, human and divine love in a tight archaic form. Being mystified, I find, is often as good as understanding. I can't remember what I wrote, but I don't think I was funny then, and those priceless letters were tossed in a fit of purging during one of our many moves. We were both serious lovers.

So, this morning, the Prie Dieu stands as symbol of relationship, human and Divine. Place of comfort and devotion. Place of Love. Place of Rest.

Peace to you all and Rest.