Sunday, November 30, 2014

Keep Watch

First Sunday in Advent and St. Andrew's Day

I came home from a sunny and unusually warm thanksgiving holiday to icy roads and snow covered mountains. Our flight was delayed some and we ended up not arriving home until almost 1:30 a.m., so today was slow-going and I slept in til nearly 10:30 a.m. That doesn't happen often! I managed to get everyone fed, dressed and out the door by 2 p.m. and we did our Giving Tree shopping for the church and quickly ate a meal as we headed out to evening Mass.

The black ice and holiday weekend meant low numbers at this Mass, so I ended up being asked to be a eucharistic minister, something that happens only about once or twice a year, and No. 1 was asked to be a Lector. She did a great job and I nearly had an anxiety attack about serving Communion, but made it through. Keep watch! is what I remember of the Gospel. The homily was about not waiting until it is too late to show people love.

I noticed a woman in our parish wearing a lace veil but with denim jeans. We must be one of the few regions of the country where that makes sense. Almost every woman I know who wears a veil for Mass (and none of them are at our parish, most are online friends), wears it for Modesty, as part of feminine dress, so she's wearing a skirt or dress as well. I didn't want to put her on the spot about her choice, so I didn't ask her why the veil, why the jeans? Maybe it was simply too cold and she didn't have a clean skirt. But I could imagine wearing a veil with jeans implies something different; a heartfelt belief in God's true presence at Mass in Communion. It makes perfect sense to me anyhow.

After Mass, we came home and lit our Advent wreath, said the prayer for the week and I gave each of my kids their chocolate Advent calendars. We had a little wrangling over who got which design so I told each of them which I had picked for who and then they decided whether or not to accept my choice. The younger two ended up having to play rock, paper, scissors, to decide who got the calendar with gnomes and a giant tree house. The loser graciously accepted the decision and I complimented her on not losing her cool.

After that, we had our St. Andrew's Tea, which was just cocoa and thistle napkins around the advent wreath. We wrapped our Giving Tree gifts and I'll drive them over to the church when the streets have thawed out this week. No. 3 was especially good at wrapping; her gift looks really artistic. I'm afraid the poor kid who gets the stack of books she requested is going to be in for a lot of work to dig them out of the layers of paper and packing tape I used.

Kids are hoping for a late-start notice from the school district in the morning. Our area just isn't equipped to deal with icy roads and snow that lingers. So many hills and so few de-icing machines. I wouldn't mind a late start myself!

I started reading a new book on the airplane. I think this makes the fourth or fifth book I'm in the middle of. The Martian by Andy Weir is a straight up science fiction novel, with realistic science and surprisingly gripping narrative. I would never in a million years be able to understand the math and chemistry going on in this book, it's like the mother of all McGuyver situations, a Crichton adveture and a Sherlock style intricate puzzle to figure out, but it's totally enjoyable even without understanding all that. It's rare to find novels like this being printed now. The SF/F market is really heavily taken over by media tie-ins and fantasy novels (in science-fictiony settings or otherwise). This is more like classic Sci Fi of the 1950s but without the dated stereotypes and with up to date technology. I'm looking forward to finishing this one.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Life in Miniature

I am sure there is some psychological study out there that examines people who take up the hobby of miniatures. Basement generals with their thousands of tin soldiers. Train enthusiasts who fill the dining room with plywood and sawhorses holding up track and switches instead of cups and dishes. I suspect that having a keen interest in tiny replicas of real life things could probably be a coping mechanism for having a chaotic, stressful life. Even role-playing gamers with their lead orcs and wizards like the order of a game board and pieces all set up properly. Well, I now self-diagnose myself among the anxious ranks of control freaks looking for a world in which they actually have absolute power over what happens.

I'm 43 years old and I've started outfitting a dollhouse.

I've had doll houses before, actually quite a few of them. I had a Barbie house, with a pull-string elevator. A Fisher-Price house with plastic peg people and a front door bell that dinged. But these all disappeared in donation boxes by the time I was twelve. My mother though had a real dollhouse that her grandfather had built out of wood, with glass windows. At some point, it was passed on to me, but it was already in pretty bad shape, the paint had peeled, the floors had lost their linoleum and carpet but not the chunky remnants of glue holding it down. I played with it, but it was the wrong size for my dolls. Barbies were too big to fit in it and new dollhouse furniture was the wrong scale for the somewhat primitively but solidly constructed house.

When my own girls were little, I gave it a makeover with colorful paints and bought a houseful of IKEA modern doll furniture that the kids played with for years, although at some point I lost patience with the set's plastic pointy edgedness and donated that as well.

The doll house then sat empty for a few years, getting repurposed as a storage unit, a book case, a junk drawer of mislaid toys. My daughters grew out of playing house age and I moved the dollhouse into my bedroom, set it up on a small table and ignored it, wondering how long it would be before someone played with it again.

One day last week I was out Christmas shopping, looking for small gifts for girlfriends in a cute boutique. Among the holiday ornaments, I saw a tiny Christmas tree with bottle brush metallic green branches, dangly red and silver ornaments, and teeny tiny faux candles. Just the right size for my dollhouse, I thought.

I took it home, cleared out the half-forgotten Legos, comic books, tissues, and ribbon, and set the little tree in the empty dollhouse. It had a sort of Zen beauty, but I started thinking a fireplace would look good there, and a wreath over the door...maybe a couch and table with miniature oriental rug next?

In the middle of running kids to school, to choir, to swim, to the theater, to church, to band, answering emails, making plans, attending meetings, cleaning house, folding laundry, making beds, paying bills, remembering to make dinner and clean has been a pleasant distraction to fill up my dollhouse, with beds that stay made and living rooms that are always tidy.

There are no deadlines and noisy demands in dollhouse world. Of course, I don't sit and make stories for my dolls the way I did when I was little. That would be weird! It's enough to just have it there to look at once in a while and contemplate the order and beauty of the little things in its little life.

Probably some famous dictators and tyrants collected miniatures. Probably I am turning into my grandmother. If I start replacing my comfy living room furniture with Victorian reproductions and lace doilies on every surface, somebody slap me. But in the mean time, I'm going over to etsy to contemplate the adorable options in miniature wooden bathtubs. And look, the little scale even has numbers! Ooooo....

Currently, the dollhouse is peopled by Bl. Imelda, St. Bernadette, and St. Therese. The girls have gotten too old for their little wooden saints but they'll always have a home here.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Letters Home

I'm mailing out cards for family and friends we won't see around the table at Thanksgiving, which is quite a few, as we are spread out all over the USA. I'm not sure what it is like to have all your relatives and in-laws living in the same town, but I imagine it must be nice to be able to visit with everyone at some point during the holidays; catch up on the family news, give hugs and hold new babies in person, trade advice and humorous stories. As families get smaller and live further apart, no wonder family ties get looser and hometowns less important.

Over the years, I've done some thinking about why Americans are the way they are: in a hurry, moving frequently, less connected to the past and to family, endlessly consuming and materialistic, youth-oriented, all that stuff we complain about. I think it's just that we are a young country that happened to build on the industrial age and all the advances in speed in just about everything.

We traveled faster, communicated faster, built fortunes faster than in previous centuries and the landscape and communities were new too. All that made suburbia and social mobility possible, almost required. If the economy is bad in one place it's assumed you should pack up and move where the jobs are, very little respect is given to the idea of wanting to stay where your people came from, because probably your parents have picked up and moved for retirement, your sister and brother went to university elsewhere and settled in another town for good schools, and so on.

Suburbia implies impermanence. Modern houses are not built to last more than a generation or two. And who stays in the family house more than a generation these day? We change houses with phases of life. My grandparents' houses are both in neighborhoods that are now much more urban than when they set up house there. (For Seattleites, one is on Roosevelt Way and the other on 35th Ave. SW, both now busy arterials where street cars used to run down the center lane.)

In older countries, neighborhoods are longer established and more stable. With time, beautiful established neighborhoods can be cultivated, but we have to value them and stay there to make it happen. One of the themes of my life is making a commitment to stability. Benedictine monastics take a vow of stability, to live in one community, to submit to living under the Rule of St. Benedict, under the authority of the abbot/abbess. I often ask myself if I can make that commitment to stay here and be that center for my children, the home place they can come back to throughout their lives, and their children's lives. Can I say no to being a nomad?


Here is a little poem I wrote, part of a longer set of verses about all the months of the year.

November 1 is winter's start,
This month remembered all souls in our hearts.
Through prayers now we our love we send,
And give thanks to God at harvest's end.

And to end, a favorite picture of No. 3, enjoying the first snow of the year a decade ago. Can't you just feel her excitement? This winter's forecast is for wet and gloomy but not freezing weather, so probably no snow this year. Hard to believe how much snow some parts of the country have gotten already.
November 2005

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Christ the King Sunday: I roused the troops for the 8:30 am Mass and we helped distribute advent wreaths after in the parish hall. As much as I love sleeping in, we all do, the day goes so much better when we go to Mass in the morning. I really need to make this switch for our sanity. I had one of those squirrelly Masses where I was dealing with one child on my left and another child on the right for the entire service, so I'm not sure what the readings might have been sheep and goats? Something along the lines of Judgment is coming, I am pretty sure. Christ is King, whether I can hear the entire homily or not. Hallelujah!

After Mass, I took the girls down to the newly refurbished Cinerama movie theater, a place I'd last been in about 1988. We saw the third installment of the Hunger Games story, Mockingjay Part 1. It isn't a fun movie and that's good. I liked how the victors of the games are made real by seeing the nightmares, the addictions, the pain and wounds from being forced into these traumatic situations over and over. Katniss takes a bit of a back seat in this movie and that's fine, there are a lot of side characters worth exploring because they are being played by excellent actors. The movie tells the story in some ways better than the book. It's not often I say that.

The Cinerama is worth visiting. For $15 you get a reserved seat number, a large comfy recliner chair with cup holder, the giant old movie screen and up-to-date Dolby Atmos sound system, plus the building has been painting with a cool wraparound retro sci-fi mural, and a rotating selection of Paul Allen's costume collection are on display in the lobby. Concessions were more reasonable than I expected. A large bag of mixed chocolate and butter popcorn was $7. They also serve beer, wine and hard cider, along with other better-quality treats.

A funny thing about The Hunger Games world. It's post-apocalyptic dystopian fantasy. Though set in the American landscape there is very little reference to the common past and no religious references at all. I guess that is a reflection of it being a teen drama. What inspires the revolutionaries is Katniss's bravery and love for their families and friends. The few wise adults she consults are mostly tragically flawed; Haymitch is a drunk, Plutarch is manipulative, Effie is superficial, President Coin is cunning, only Cinna was really good, but he was killed for designing her too awesome of a dress. Her mother plays almost no role in the movie except as a piece of story that must be protected. Most adult advice comes down to, "You can do it. I believe in you."

Katniss isn't inspiring the way Frodo and Sam inspire us to heroism. You get the feeling that Katniss would just as soon chuck the revolution if she could transport her circle of friends to a safe alien planet and never bat an eye worrying about the rest of the world she left behind. It's been a while since I read the books, but I don't remember getting the impression that focus ever changes all the way to the end. She never finds anything bigger than herself or her family to fight for; she would never make an ultimate sacrifice for the cause. The story ends up being only about her survival. That scene in The Silver Chair where Puddleglum and Eustace and Jill fight with the Green Lady about whether the sun and Aslan and magic even exist and they believe in the idea of those things, the goodness of them, so strongly that they smash her magic lantern and break out of her hypnotic spell just to preserve the idea of them...that kind of faith in an idea bigger than the self never happens in Katniss' world. There's only safety to hope for. It keeps Hunger Games from being really meaningful entertainment, but it is enjoyable.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Conversational Jazz

Jazz is a musical language that I am just beginning to understand. No. 2 performed in a festival this morning with the school jazz band. My favorite piece they did was "Summertime," with that wailing muted trumpet. Classic and beautiful piece by Gershwin from the musical Porgy and Bess. They also did "A Child is Born" by Thad Jones, a very quiet and moving piece that builds slowly, adding a few instruments at a time. You really have to sit still and listen.

Maybe that is what I didn't like about jazz as a younger person. You don't dance to a song like that, just sit and experience it and see what feelings it brings out in you. There is jazz for dancing too of course. Swing is a long-time favorite. In the heart of the grunge music era, I used to buy Harry Connick Jr CDs at the dumpy little music shop between my apartment and the university campus. But then I used to skip impatiently over the instrumental tracks. Now I'm more willing to just sit and listen to the conversation.

Today is the fifty-first anniversary of C.S. Lewis' death, his birthday into glory, as my grandparents might have put it (not that they were Lewis readers, they were more likely to listen to a radio or television evangelist). The Episcopal Church in the USA venerates Lewis as a saint. I like to remember him today in thankfulness for the great impact he had on my spiritual life and growth as a Christian. I'll light a candle, have a cup of British tea and maybe read a bit of Narnia tonight.

C.S. Lewis
29 November 1898 – 22 November 1963

Today: Advent wreath making for No. 3, Closing Night of the school play for No. 1
Thinking ahead: Thanksgiving at my sister's, Hunchback of Notre Dame at La Jolla Playhouse, St. Andrew's Day--a day for thinking about my (partly) Scottish heritage and fostering an appreciation for it in the kids.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Keep Going

Here is Ye Olde Blogge again, it's Apostle to Suburbia 2.0. I kept the name but had to change the web address, as some foreign spam bot had taken over the original one.

I have one of those crazy over-scheduled weekends again, where on paper it looks nutso, but in actuality it works okay, as long as I remember which kids need to be fed when and call in the reinforcements, that is, the grandparents. For example, tonight was three events at the same time: the penultimate drama performance of Number One daughter, the world premiere of Number Three daughter playing baritone horn with the sixth grade band, and den meeting night for my One and Only Son. Number Three daughter gets her time in the spotlight bright and early tomorrow morning when I'll drive her and four friends to the jazz festival for performance and critiquing.

No problem! Order pizza at 2 pm for an early bite to eat. Everyone dressed and ready before 5, drop off the actress, drive to the other school, drop off the musicians, find the grandparents, eat dinner, send scout with grandfather to den meeting, listen to band, take pictures, serve cookies for half an hour, collect musicians and grandmother, drive home, drop off passengers, let in son and grandfather, drive to theater, watch second act of show, help clean up concessions, give food money and instructions to be home before midnight to the actress, get home again, put kids to bed, check on location for jazz festival tomorrow, wait for actress to come home.

Living the "single mom" life just sucks some times. It works out, but you feel exhausted by the sheer effort it takes to get even the fun stuff done. My parents drove almost two hours in rush hour Friday traffic to get here to take my son to scouts while the other listened politely to 10 minutes of London Bridge and other nursery tunes.

Yet, by the grace of God, we carry on and life gets lived and progress is made and the kids keep growing. I'm grateful.

Looking forward to Advent, and the quieter days of winter break.  And actually, that one week in December when there are school concerts four nights in a row? Totally looking forward to that too.

For whatever reason, I've been given the grace to get through this crazy period in life, to even enjoy it somewhat, although by any logical reasoning, it should be driving me insane. I was the mom who always said no to volunteer requests, I relished my quiet evenings and quiet days and quiet activity-free afternoons. When I finally allowed one activity (taekwondo) I loved that it was one thing all five of us did together. I felt so smart, like I had tricked modern parenting into submission. The young mom I was ten years ago would never have believed I'd have kids in theater, volleyball, choir, and scouts, all at the same time.

How do I do it? I'm asked this all the time by moms with even more kids than me.

Grace. It doesn't come from me, but from Him.

And I'm so grateful. I don't even have time to think about it much, but I know, I feel it. I'm on a long swim and I have to keep moving forward. I'm pumping my arms, kicking my legs, breathing at a measured pace, finding my rhythm, head down, just keep going, Just keep going.