...and down. No, this is not a political post. We took the tree down today after dragging Lina-kitty out of it by her scruff again! Chew, chew, pull, pull, play, play. Much cleaning, vacumming and attic trips. Little blogging.
Anyway, a few days ago, I added a "Favorite Posts" section to my blogroll - to the right, at the bottom.
I also added a few new blogs to the "Books" section.
This is my favorite week of the year. It may even beat the weeks we spend in the mountains in the fall, and the weeks when the dogwoods bloom in the spring. It's a good week, even though the pansies are the only things blooming (but it's been warm so they're doing well).
I love the week between Christmas and New Year's because there's still a bit of Christmas spirit left over without any of the stress. No dance, no work (older son and I took this week off), no choir (Hmm.... I hope there was no choir!). I did teach aerobics on Wednesday, but it was a small class. It's the most peaceful week of the year.
Younger son and I walked around this evening after dark to look at lights one more time, read a children's version of A Christmas Carol, and then just snuggled on the couch and looked at the tree. I never have time to just sit and look at the tree before Christmas.
The tree's got to come down this weekend because the cats are enjoying it way too much. Younger son: "Mommy, here's a branch on the floor, and those things we wrap around the trunk." Me: "Just leave them on the floor because the cats will just try to get them off again."
Yes, we have an artificial tree. I'm allergic to real ones. My sister and I used to be sick every year at Christmas - until my mother figured out that we're allergic to real trees.
I'm also allergic to cats. Claritin is my friend.
Back to today... I'd done all the cleaning I intended to do earlier this week. Bills were paid. Laundry done. We had a game morning this morning. First we played a few rounds of Kerplunk for younger son's sake, then the older two and I started a long game of Trivial Pursuit. We finally quit at 1:30 for lunch. I won, but only by one point (Did you know that Martin Van Buren was the first U.S. president not to have been a British citizen? Neither did we.).
It was a lovely afternoon to go to Maple View Farm to get ice cream. It's the first day in a while that we've all been free to go there - usually there's either work for older son or dance for daughter. Maple View is out in the country. Their front porch is lined with rocking chairs where you can sit and look out over the rolling fields while eating ice cream (photos here). Since it was a warm holiday week day, there were lots of people out biking. A few stopped by for ice cream.
This weekend will be my favorite church service.
Yes, even more favorite than the Christmas Eve service with all the wonderful singing, and all of us there together with my mother. I've gone to church by myself so much this year that I'd forgotten how it felt to all go together. I'll be honest, I got teary, especially when we held hands to pray together after Communion. It had been so long since everyone went together that I'd forgotten we did that.
And even more favorite than Easter with its joyous "Jesus Christ is Risen Today!"
It's probably because this service is as close to the feel of a daily Mass that a weekend service can get. In our Episcopalian church, the Sunday after Christmas is usually a rather calm small service. Instead of a sermon, there are "Readings from the tradition" - Christian writings from centuries ago. They're the sort of writings that most Catholic parishes stopped talking about after Vatican II - part of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. One of the things I like about the Episcopalian church, or at least our parish, is that they still read and pay attention to these writings.
This service is also usually small, attendance-wise. Sometimes there are so few people that the priest invites us all to come up and stand around the altar during the consecration. A small, intimate service. It's beautiful.
Even though I've got all sorts of newer music, this week, I've been playing some of the first folk CD's that I ever bought: Maura O'Connell's "Helpless Heart" (came out in 1989), John Gorka's "Out of the Valley" (came out in 1994), James Keelaghan's "Road" (1999), Mary-Chapin Carpenter's "Party Doll" (1999, but they're all older songs), and the Indigo Girls' "Swamp Ophelia" (1994). They somehow go along with the calmer feel of this week - like spending the time with old friends.
We have recently been lucky enough to discover several previously
lost diaries of French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre stuck in between
the cushions of our office sofa. These diaries reveal a young Sartre
obsessed not with the void, but with food. Aparently Sartre, before
discovering philosophy, had hoped to write "a cookbook that will put to
rest all notions of flavor forever.'' The diaries are excerpted here
for your perusal.
Spoke with Camus today about my cookbook. Though he has never
actually eaten, he gave me much encouragement. I rushed home
immediately to begin work. How excited I am! I have begun my formula
for a Denver omelet.
Still working on the omelet. There have been stumbling blocks. I
keep creating omelets one after another, like soldiers marching into
the sea, but each one seems empty, hollow, like stone. I want to create
an omelet that expresses the meaninglessness of existence, and instead
they taste like cheese. I look at them on the plate, but they do not
look back. Tried eating them with the lights off. It did not help.
Malraux suggested paprika.
I have realized that the traditional omelet form (eggs and cheese)
is bourgeois. Today I tried making one out of a cigarette, some coffee,
and four tiny stones...
And, of course, Evita. This is the performance from the 1980 Tony awards where Evita won seven awards (Best musical, actor (Patinkin, right, playing Che Guevara), actress (Patti LuPone, playing Evita), book (Tim Rice), score (Andrew Lloyd Weber), director (Harold Prince), and lighting design (David Hersey)).
We just watched the wonderful 2002 version of The Importance of Being Earnest. All of the performances are good, but Dame Judi Dench* (right), excellent as Lady Bracknell, gets many of the best lines:
Lady Bracknell: I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance.
Ignorance is like a delecate, exotic fruit. Touch it, and the bloom is
gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound.
Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect
whatsoever. If it did it would prove a serious threat to the upper
classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.
*Musical and Fosse connections: Dame Judi Dench played Sally Bowles in the original, 1968, London production of Cabaret (click here to hear her sing "Cabaret"). In a 1999 studio version of Cabaret, she sang the part of Fraulein Schneider. She was supposed to play Grizabella (who sings "Memory") in the original 1981 London production of CATS but had to bow out due to a torn achilles tendon and was replaced by Elaine Paige. In 1996, she won an Olivier award for best actress in a musical for her performance as Desiree in "A Little Night Music." [click here to see a clip] For more music and video clips, click here.
God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign
is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come
with power and outward splendour. He comes as a baby – defenceless and in need
of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away
our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He
wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn
to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will – we learn to live with
him and to practise with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the
very essence of love. God made himself small so that we could understand him,
welcome him, and love him. The Fathers of the Church, in their Greek translation
of the Old Testament, found a passage from the prophet Isaiah that Paul also
quotes in order to show how God’s new ways had already been foretold in the Old
Testament. There we read: "God made his Word short, he abbreviated it" (Is
10:23; Rom 9:28). The Fathers interpreted this in two ways. The Son
himself is the Word, the Logos; the eternal Word became small – small
enough to fit into a manger. He became a child, so that the Word could be
grasped by us. In this way God teaches us to love the little ones. In this way
he teaches us to love the weak. In this way he teaches us respect for children.
The child of Bethlehem directs our gaze towards all children who suffer and are
abused in the world, the born and the unborn. Towards children who are placed as
soldiers in a violent world; towards children who have to beg; towards children
who suffer deprivation and hunger; towards children who are unloved. In all of
these it is the Child of Bethlehem who is crying out to us; it is the God who
has become small who appeals to us. Let us pray this night that the brightness
of God’s love may enfold all these children. Let us ask God to help us do our
part so that the dignity of children may be respected. May they all experience
the light of l ove, which mankind needs so much more than the material
necessities of life.
And so we come to the second meaning that the Fathers saw in
the phrase: "God made his Word short". The Word which God speaks to us in Sacred
Scripture had become long in the course of the centuries. It became long and
complex, not just for the simple and unlettered, but even more so for those
versed in Sacred Scripture, for the experts who evidently became entangled in
details and in particular problems, almost to the extent of losing an overall
perspective. Jesus "abbreviated" the Word – he showed us once more its deeper
simplicity and unity. Everything taught by the Law and the Prophets is summed up
– he says – in the command: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your
heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… You shall love your
neighbour as yourself" (Mt 22:37-40). This is everything – the whole
faith is contained in this one act of love which embraces God and humanity. Yet
now further questions arise: how are we to love God with all our mind, when our
intellect can barely reach him? How are we to love him with all our heart and
soul, when our heart can only catch a glimpse of him from afar, when there are
so many contradictions in the world that would hide his face from us? This is
where the two ways in which God has "abbreviated" his Word come together. He is
no longer distant. He is no longer unknown. He is no longer beyond the reach of
our heart. He has become a child for us, and in so doing he has dispelled all
doubt. He has become our neighbour, restoring in this way the image of man, whom
we often find so hard to love. For us, God has become a gift. He has given
himself. He has entered time for us. He who is the Eternal One, above time, he
has assumed our time and raised it to himself on high. Christmas has become the
Feast of gifts in imitation of God who has given himself to us. Let us allow our
heart, our soul and our mind to be touched by this fact! Among the many gifts
that we buy and receive, let us not forget the true gift: to give each other
something of ourselves, to give each other something of our time, to open our
time to God. In this way anxiety disappears, joy is born, and the feast is
created. During the festive meals of these days let us remember the Lord’s words:
"When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite those who will invite you in
return, but invite those whom no one invites and who are not able to invite you"
(cf. Lk 14:12-14). This also means: when you give gifts for Christmas, do
not give only to those who will give to you in return, but give to those who
receive from no one and who cannot give you anything back. This is what God has
done: he invites us to his wedding feast, something which we cannot reciprocate,
but can only receive with joy. Let us imitate him! Let us love God and, starting
from him, let us also love man, so that, starting from man, we can then
rediscover God in a new way!
All this is conveyed by the sign that was given to the shepherds and is given
also to us: the child born for us, the child in whom God became small for us.
Let us ask the Lord to grant us the grace of looking upon the crib this night
with the simplicity of the shepherds, so as to receive the joy with which they
returned home (cf. Lk 2:20). Let us ask him to give us the humility and
the faith with which Saint Joseph looked upon the child that Mary had conceived
by the Holy Spirit. Let us ask the Lord to let us look upon him with that same
love with which Mary saw him. And let us pray that in this way the light that
the shepherds saw will shine upon us too, and that what the angels sang that
night will be accomplished throughout the world: "Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased." Amen!
We'll be going over to my mother's house this afternoon, to open presents this evening (as is traditional in Estonia), then going to the Lutheran candlelight service. Around 10 tonight, we'll be lighting candles and singing "Silent Night" - one of my favorite parts of Christmas.
London's Saint Paul's Cathedral Choir sings "Glory to God", from Handel's Messiah, during the 1997 Christmas Concert at St Paul's Cathedral