Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Let's Start the New Year Right (Bing Crosby)

For 2009, A Happiness Action Plan
Dr. Sandra R. Scantling
December 28, 2008

Every New Year's Eve, as the clock ticks its remaining few seconds and the ball in Times Square begins its descent, I feel excitement and trepidation. It doesn't seem to matter where I happen to be celebrating. Be it a big party or quietly at home with my husband (and Dick Clark, of course), my reactions are the same.

Like so many others, when the final countdown begins, I want to "be there" to witness the birth of the New Year. At that instant, at the juxtaposition of old and new, I feel compelled to hold on, to pay special attention, as a voice inside whispers: "This is it ... this is all there will be in 2008. The record is sealed."

Amid the joy and celebration, there is a solemnity as I reflect on my personal responsibilities and wonder, "What will the coming year bring? What is my role in making it a happy year?"

Aristotle said: "Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence." It is one of the most often wished for, most frequently written about and most poorly understood experience. There are thousands of texts on the subject, from the wise to the mundane, from spiritual guidance to self-help — but happiness still often eludes us.

Although I'm a sex therapist, most couples come to see me because they'd like to be happier. They know this can't be all there is in life. Arguing and work. Where's the joy? Where's the passion? they ask.

As they look across my office at their partner and make blaming statements, like "you never tell me you love me any more" or "you always wait for me to initiate sex," they ignore the hurt looks that result. Each party feels slighted and often defensive. Even if they sound like they're taking responsibility — "Yes, I admit it, I'm not a very expressive person, but I've always been this way ... " — it sometimes comes out as justification for their behavior. And, in case you haven't noticed, nagging, complaining or finger pointing only builds resentment and hostility. I've never heard a patient say, "I finally decided to change because my partner yelled at me in a convincing enough way."

So I can hear you asking, "What am I supposed to do? I deserve to be happy."

Yes you do. So why aren't you? Who is responsible for your happiness?

Perhaps you are the person stopping yourself from being happy. How do you feel when you think about acting differently to achieve happiness? Maybe you're annoyed at the suggestion of changing, a case of "Here we go again; I have to do it all. If only he wasn't so cold, selfish, controlling (fill in the adjectives), things would be fine." I can guarantee he's thinking the same thing.

This is a fruitless struggle that leaves both partners exhausted. No wonder you're tired and don't have any energy left to make love.

The New Year is the perfect time to experiment — when the calendar resets, we're given a chance for a "do-over." Instead of making the usual resolutions, create a happiness action plan. Then follow through. Find where happiness is present in your lives, and do more of it. Remember something you're grateful for in your partner that you haven't acknowledged. Then tell them. Laugh and smile more often.

As this challenging year comes to a close, and we make our personal wishes for health, peace, prosperity and happiness, it's comforting to know that people all over the globe are wishing for the same things. As Mahatma Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world."

Happy New Year!

My husband and I are keeping it fairly low-key tonight - although we've had at least three invitations to various get-togethers, we're probably going to a movie and then home to drink champagne in the jacuzzi. Can't help but feel somber about my mom and Vic, two people who have lived their lives fully but are now struggling - I know they'd advocate Carpe Diem (and I'll do that tomorrow, I promise), but tonight solitude and close companionship seems more appropriate...

P.S. Over at Star Maker Machine, we're paying tribute to musicians who have passed on in 2008 (my contribution can be found here) - condolences and blessings to all who left us throughout the year...

SONG: Let's Start the New Year Right as sung by Bing Crosby (written by Irving Berlin for the movie Holiday Inn)

BOOK: The New Year by Pearl S. Buck

POEM: If I Had My Life to Live Over by Nadine Stair (85 years old)

I'd dare to make more mistakes next time.
I'd relax, I would limber up.
I would be sillier than I have been this trip.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would take more chances.

I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers.
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.
I would perhaps have more actual troubles,
but I'd have fewer imaginary ones.

You see, I'm one of those people who live
sensibly and sanely hour after hour,
day after day.

Oh, I've had my moments,
And if I had it to do over again,
I'd have more of them.
In fact, I'd try to have nothing else.
Just moments, one after another,
instead of living so many years ahead of each day.

I've been one of those people who never goes anywhere
without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat
and a parachute.
If I had to do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.

If I had my life to live over,
I would start barefoot earlier in the spring
and stay that way later in the fall.
I would go to more dances.
I would ride more merry-go-rounds.
I would pick more daisies.

QUOTE: “The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.” ~ Samuel Johnson

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Simple (Laura Love)

In anticipation of choosing a new word for 2009 (to be revealed in my Thursday, New Year's Day post), I've been doing a bit of pondering of last year's word (Release) which, given the difficulty of achieving, actually worked pretty well - 12 months later, I've divested myself of... 1 non-reciprocal friendship, 2 extra-curricular activities (another waiting in the wings), many boxes/bags of unwanted clutter, 15 pounds of unhealthy extra weight (still working on this one) and, as Joni sings, "you know, there may be more"... :-)

As a follow-up to the 20-minute video above (seriously, watch when you have the time!), I offer up
this link... and the article below, saved from six months ago...

18 Ways to Live Simple Now
June 4th, 2008 by Christine Kane

What does it mean to Live Simple?

It doesn’t mean that you foresake all of your belongings and head to the woods to live deliberately. (Though you could do worse!)

It doesn’t mean that you adopt a self-righteous attitude about money (which is often a convenient way to ignore your own money issues).

To Live Simple is to be empowered and to be present. To Live Simple is to make authentic choices and to create a life you love - free from clutter of all kinds.

Here are 18 ways to
Live Simple Now

SONG: Simple by Laura Love (can't find lyrics or YouTube video - go
here and scroll down to track 7 to listen to a few bars)...

Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle by David Wann

POEM: Start Close In by David Whyte

Start close in,
don't take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step you don't want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.

Start with your own
give up on other
people's questions,
don't let them
smother something

To find
another's voice
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes a
private ear
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don't follow
someone else's
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don't mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don't take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step you don't want to take.

QUOTE: "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage - to move in the opposite direction." ~ E.F. Schumacker

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Why Can't It Be Christmastime All Year (Rosie Thomas)

Hi, Honeys - I'm home!

Just back late last night from transporting a family of five via minivan through three states/four households and a motel/1600+ miles in 8 days - equal amounts calm and chaos, delight and depression, exhilaration and exhaustion... and we slept peacefully in our own beds last night, albeit already missing the company of long-distance family...

So much ground to cover (pun intended) - here's a sampling of magic moments:

~ We left home in Florida about midnight Friday (passing our intended departure time by 2 hours), driving straight through to Aiken, South Carolina where we arrived a bit after noon - stopped at a Cracker Barrel on the way for breakfast (where I reprised their fluffy-in-the-middle, crispy-around-the-edges pancakes - yum!).

~ The weather turned bitter cold for two days, but thankfully we had coats/scarves/gloves/hats/boots to ward off the worst - it actually was a nice change of pace from the 80+ degree days we'd left behind...

~ We took my husband's stepmom (who lives in Batesburg, about 30 miles away) out for lunch to a local barbeque place, where she ate well and chatted animatedly - afterwards, we visited the cemetery where we buried R's dad a little over a year ago, and it was an emotional moment for all of us...

~ Went to lunch the next day at the health food store/restaurant where my niece K works - great products and delicious food (I will be attempting to re-create the carrot ginger bisque soon!).

~ We resurrected my husband's family tradition of playing penny poker on Christmas Eve (which we celebrated Monday, December 22 since we had to get back on the road the following day) - we took turns dealing and choosing which format (5 card draw/7 card straight/Texas Hold-em, etc.) and wild cards (deuces and one-eyed Jacks, baseball, Follow the Queen, etc.).

~ It was a treat to have my recently-acquired laptop on the trip, where I could do quick e-mail checks so my ever-growing inbox wouldn't seem quite so daunting a week later - I also wrote out and mailed my holiday cards from the motel...

~ The drive from my husband's sister's house in South Carolina to my mom's home in Georgia is about 3 hours, and we arrived there about 4 p.m. Tuesday - we immediately made a grocery store run and cooked a nice dinner for mom that evening (chicken, rice, steamed green beans, roasted yellow squash)... with store-bought pie for dessert...

~ I've mentioned before that my mom is in declining health, and it was frightening to see how much worse she was since the end of October, when I was up there for the Dar concert - she is on oxygen 24/7 now (we had a tank delivered to my sister's house so Mom could spend a few nights) and, even then, she gets easily out of breath. My brother and sister call her daily, with my brother stopping in every weekend to see what she needs/do things around the house and my sister visiting at least that often, as well as getting mom to all her doctor appointments.

Mom has amazing friends and neighbors, who also check on her regularly - however, my brother, sister and I need to have an in-depth conversation as to exactly what our long-term hopes/plans are for mom (in-home caregiver, assisted living facility, moving to Florida... and in with us, etc.). With both diseases (kidney and pulmonary fibrosis) being chronic and progressive, it has become increasingly more difficult for mom to care for herself, even slowing down substantially - this trip was a wake-up call for me, and it was hard to keep my composure when all I wanted to do was weep openly and often...

~ A fireplace is a treat for us, so we bought firewood and kept a nice fire burning Tuesday night, while we watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas and White Christmas (with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney) - classic...

~ Over to my sister's the next day (Christmas Eve), where we ate our traditional Chinese food and finished wrapping presents/stuffing stockings/readying ourselves for Santa's arrival - I had forgotten our stockings back in Florida, so we improvised with Santa hats from the local dollar store!

~ My 12-year-old niece actually let us sleep until 9 Christmas morning, whereupon we all went downstairs and opened presents - we kept things simple and budget-limited this year, yet my children still managed to amaze/delight me with their choices: from Sarah... a gorgeous "be the change you wish to see in the world" silver necklace and a book, Why a Daughter Needs a Mom, to which she added personalized statements on each page (positively sobworthy); from Rob... a beautiful sage green dragonfly vase; from Eric... another necklace, this one silver and lapis; from mom... the movie of Mamma Mia! and a check; from my brother Brad... a Target gift card (yay!); from Mari... our family vacation photo in a Blessings frame, a Dance Sing Laugh Love plaque, a sun/moon for the patio, some tall drink glasses and, best of all, a book she made herself on the computer of all her favorite/most-used/best-requested recipes, which she gifted to everyone (hey, Mari... I don't think you stuck to the limit... :-)

~ My husband and I gave each other... drumroll, please... a new bathroom, on which work should begin tomorrow morning (fingers crossed) and hopefully be finished by week's end - it will be nice to have two again!

~ We stayed in our pajamas, eating Mari's delicious strada and quiches and drinking mimosas and totally lost track of time... so our college friend Steve and his wife Betty (who we knew were coming about 11 for a visit) totally caught us off-guard when they arrived promptly - had a grand time with them until they left about 2... whereupon we began preparing a mouth-watering lunch of ham, hashbrown casserole, shrimp and grits, green beans and rolls.

~ Overheard from our menfolk cleaning up in the kitchen after dinner (while we women sat at the table, still sipping wine), after the garbage disposal had noisily run: "I don't know what it was... but it's gone now!"...

~ We curled up on the couches later that evening to watch back-to-back movies of Mamma Mia! and Sex and the City (accompanied by dessert of the peanut butter and apple pies we didn't have room for earlier) - at that point, my poor sister (chipper and organized and active since we got there) started feeling sick and went up to bed...

~ Went back to mom's about noon Friday where we took it easy (meant to play Scrabble but never got around to it) - Mari joined us later, still not feeling well, and we kept the fire going all night, more for comfort than warmth...

~ Saturday morning came much too early and it was back in the car for the 12-hour drive to Florida, where traffic was horrible most of the way until we hit the Turnpike - it was wonderful to pick up the dog from our friends who were keeping him and finally get back home... where I've spent most of the day puttering and re-acclimating (laundry and shopping and e-mail, oh my!).

As we were watching the Grinch only a few days ago, I listened closely to the last song, which hit me in the heart - took me a while to find the snippet online... but worth the effort, as it totally seems to sum up our holiday experience ("just as long as we have we" indeed... :-)

"Welcome Christmas
Bring your cheer
Cheer to all Whos far and near
Christmas Day is in our grasp
So long as we have hands to clasp
Christmas Day will always be
Just as long as we have we
Welcome, Christmas while we stand
heart to heart and hand in hand."

P.S. More SMM
here, here and here...

SONG: Why Can't It Be Christmastime All Year by Rosie Thomas (I can't seem to find the lyrics, but
here's the YouTube video/recording)

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote, Beth Peck (illustrator)

POEM: Despair by Billy Collins

So much gloom and doubt in our poetry -
flowers wilting on the table,
the self regarding itself in a watery mirror.

Dead leaves cover the ground,
the wind moans in the chimney,
and the tendrils of the yew tree inch toward the coffin.

I wonder what the ancient Chinese poets
would make of all this,
the shadows and empty cupboards?

Today, with the sun blazing in the trees,
my thoughts turn to the great
tenth-century celebrators of experience,

Wa-Hoo, whose delight in the smallest things
could hardly be restrained,
and to his joyous counterpart in the western provinces,

QUOTE: "I sometimes think we expect too much of Christmas Day. We try to crowd into it the long arrears of kindliness and humanity of the whole year. As for me, I like to take my Christmas a little at a time, all through the year. And thus I drift along into the holidays - let them overtake me unexpectedly - waking up some fine morning and suddenly saying to myself: "Why, this is Christmas Day!" ~ David Grayson

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Longest Night of the Year (Mary Chapin Carpenter)

How funny - I just posted an MCC song over at Star Maker Machine (see P.S. below... :-)

Doing the headless chicken routine here at the OK Corral - attempting to get out of town for our annual family holiday vacation. Lots of driving but worth every mile - I must finish packing... but here are a few tidbits to tide you over until my return Sunday, December 28...

Happy Holidays to all - wishing you peace, in all its various incarnations, locally to globally...

P.S. Another SMM...

The pines look black in the half-
light of dawn. Stillness...

While we slept an inch of new snow
simplified the field. Today of all days
the sun will shine no more
than is strictly necessary.

At the village church last night
the boys - shepherds and wise men -
pressed close to the manger in obedience,
wishing only for time to pass;

but the girl dressed as Mary trembled
as she leaned over the pungent hay,
and like the mother of Christ
wondered why she had been chosen.

After the pageant, a ruckus of cards,
presents, and homemade Christmas sweets.
A few of us stayed to clear the bright
scraps and ribbons from the pews,
and lift the pulpit back in place.

When I opened the hundred-year-old Bible
to Luke's account of the Epiphany
black dust from the binding rubbed off
on my hands, and on the altar cloth.

QUOTE: "Now, near the Winter Solstice, it is good to light candles. All the nice meanings of bringing light to the world can be beautiful. But perhaps we are concentrating on lighting the world because we don't know how to light up our own lives." ~ Ralph Levy

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas, Don't Be Late (Alvin and the Chipmunks)

I read the following meme on Mom Sequitur's blog (hi, Kate!) about a month ago... and commented that I'd love to copy, paste and fill in the blanks with my own answers as it got closer to Christmas - here we are... and here I go!

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? I used to do either/both... but last year I bought about 20 Publix
green bags and wrapped all my gifts in those, topping off with a nice holiday ribbon - this year I bought an equal number of the Target red bags, and will do the same. Since simple is the theme of our holiday, the bags will live on throughout 2009 and beyond, rather than ending up in a landfill - reduce/reuse/recycle...

2. Real tree or Artificial? We always did a real tree... when we still did a tree - however, for the last four or five years, we've skipped that step. The year my mom's husband was killed in a car accident, we decided to drive up from Florida and spend Christmas with her (and my brother, sister and her family) - it just felt like a lot of work when we wouldn't be here to enjoy it. So... no tree, but bits and pieces of my Santa collection, lots of candles and a few other decorative touches outside and in - it still feels festive, and we're not overwhelmed pre- and post-trip. Plus my sister's tree is always huge and gorgeous - we can live vicariously!

3. When do you put up the tree? Again... when we did, we always waited until *after* Thanksgiving... usually the first weekend in December - I'm a firm believer in celebrating one holiday at a time... :-)

4. When do you take the tree down? When we did, we always kept it up until after New Year's - I never got tired of appreciating our handiwork and the calm it invokes...

5. Do you like eggnog? Hack... gag... spit - yuck! That being said, when we lived in Puerto Rico, our neighbors used to make coquito, which was an eggnog with coconut milk, which I loved - crazy, huh?

6. Favorite gift received as a child?
Interestingly enough, the gift I remember loving the most wasn't even intended for me - my Uncle Leon (as hip as my father was conservative), his wife Sue and their five children sent a package of presents one year, and included The Doors first album for my parents. Needless to say, it fell on deaf ears and I inherited - loved it then... still do... :-)

7. Hardest person to buy for? I don't think anyone is especially hard to buy for, if you pay attention and listen - even if I don't purchase anything until December, I make mental notes along the way so I can find the perfect gift when the time is right...

8. Easiest person to buy for? If you follow the standards above: everyone!

9. Do you have a nativity scene? It's in storage now... but I bought a nativity scene (at Sears, of all places!) our first Christmas in Puerto Rico (1985), which means it's 23 years old now - our tradition was for each child to take turns putting the characters in a place of their own choosing. The only rule was that the Baby Jesus could not be in the hayloft (since Mary and Joseph couldn't fit up there as well) - it always managed to go smoothly and cooperatively...

10. Mail or email Christmas cards? Always mail... (with even a family newsletter included!)... except last year was so hectic I never managed either - this year both are happening, and I hope never to break that tradition again!

11.Worst Christmas gift you ever received? I can't really think of a worst - I think I'm *very* easy to buy for (Oz paraphernalia, silver jewelry, books, CDs), as my eclectic taste is visible in everything I say/do...

12. Favorite Christmas Movie? I do adore A Christmas Story (just found out a friend's father invented the leg lamp!) and the last few years, Love Actually has made it into our holiday repertoire too - gotta love the Joni mentions... :-)

13. When do you start shopping? I might pick up a few things that I see throughout the course of the year that I know will be just perfect for someone but, for the most part, I don't shop until December - these days I do more and more of my shopping online, especially since we travel. I have everything shipped to my sister's house, tell her she dare not open anything and "wrap" (see #1 above) when we get there - we even stuff each other's stockings...

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? I must confess that I have re-gifted (a la Seinfeld)... but only when I know the person who initially gave the gift will not cross paths with the one who received - but... I don't do it randomly... and only when I feel it will find a better home with them than me...

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? For years, my mom made the most amazing strada... with bread, eggs, sausage and swiss cheese... which you have to make the night before and let set - we'd pop it in the oven and smell it cooking while we were opening presents. Served with fresh fruit on the side, it made a perfect Christmas morning breakfast/brunch, filling us up enough to tide us over until the main meal later that day - it became a tradition in our household as well, and I also make a vegetarian strada for my daughter (who now eats meat, but it's still nice to have a healthier option... :-)

16. Lights on the tree? Absolutely - my mom always used the big ones, which I did for years - then my kids begged me for small ones, which we did. We went back to big and it felt like coming home - plus... it's much easier to replace one bulb at a time rather than an entire strand!

17. Favorite Christmas song? My favorite this year (in the comtemporary category) has got to be Why Can't It Be Christmastime All Year... and I of course adore Joni's River and Dar's the Christians and the Pagans - if we're talking traditional, it's a tie between O Come, O Come Emmanuel... We Three Kings... and In the Bleak Mid-Winter (I obviously love those melancholic, minor chord songs)...

18. Travel at Christmas or stay home? See #2 above...

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer? Of course - is the Pope Catholic?!?

20. Angel on the tree top or a star? Always an angel - we've had the same one (I bought it at a craft fair) decades ago...

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? Always Christmas morning - the wonderful thing is... my husband's family's tradition centers around Christmas Eve, so we could always honor both rituals without compromise or tug-of-war.

22. Most annoying thing about this time of the year? I think I'm most annoyed by the fact that people seem to get more impatient (is that contradictory?)... whether it's driving, waiting in line or seeking help in a store - I think I tend to go to the opposite extreme in that, since I'm always running/scrambling, waiting and driving have turned into times of peace, quiet and stillness for me...

23. Favorite ornament theme or color? My favorite ornaments are ones I bought similar to my favorite of my mother's when I was growing up... blown-glass birds that clip onto the tree branches - just thinking about them has me wanting to put up a tree next year, so I can haul all my decorations out of storage and see them again. I also have an amazing Santa collection (40+) I used to display, and get compliments on - each one has a story (of course!). As far as themes or matchy-matchy, I don't go that route - I adore the cacaphony of colors and styles of Christmases past... from the homemade ornaments my kids made in preschool years ago to a few priceless crystal baubles... and everything in between!

24. Favorite for Christmas dinner? Doesn't matter to me what we eat... just as long as my family is around the same table, giving thanks for being together another year - my Aunt Marie passed away in June, so there will be an extra aura of sadness at her absence...

25. What do you want for Christmas this year? I really and truly can't think of a thing I want - my favorite part is buying gifts for everyone else, choosing just the right present for each. I'm a lucky woman - wanting more seems frivolous and unnecessary. Okay, okay... maybe the new Stephanie Kallos book - good thing I ordered an extra copy to put in my own stocking!

Feel free to join in - Merry Christmas!

BOOK: The Poky Little Puppy's First Christmas by Justine Korman, Jean Chandler (illustrator)

POEM: The Night the Lights Went Out on Christmas by Ellis Paul

Every Christmas since 1950
the Johnsons have filled their yard
with nifty blinking reindeer,
Santas, Frosties, dwarves and stars

It started oh so simply
just lights within a tree
then the mailbox got all strung up
then the chimney, then the eaves

and then the half-shell Mary
got draped in neon blue
then the hydrant, then the doghouse
then they freed a petting zoo

with electric reindeer,
llamas, horses, donkies, camels, mules
and a life-sized baby Jesus
sparkling like a desert jewel!

The lights so rattled the neighborhood
that the Smiths planned a revolt
led by a neon Santa Claus
that buzzed and sparked one thousand jolts

The Williams' rolled out cotton snow
the Wheelers pinched a Grinch
Mr. Greenburg lit a menorah
with eight foot flames and did not flinch

The Jacksons inflated a Frosty
inside their manger scene
the three wise men all stood confused--
A desert snowman! Is this a dream?!

Things got so darned cluttered
that every house along the street
vanished beneath the twinkling junk
like pajamas beneath the sheets

With each new year, this competition
gave each family a Christmas mission
to see who could outdo themselves
with barking penguins, sleighs and bells

Pretty soon from miles around
strangers came to Medford Town
to see the sights on Christmas block
the lights come on at six o'clock

The cars lined up in droves and droves
driving slowly at their leisure
they'd gawk and squawk and stare in shock
while their children had near seizures

Even up in outer space
the cosmonauts could see the place
the Christmas lights atop the trees
made them homesick for their families

But then one Christmas it all would change
there was no space left to arrange
in all the Johnson's neighborhood
except the tip where one tree stood

So Missy Johnson took a star
and on a ladder reaching far
put it on the the last tree's top
while all the neighbors' chins did drop

Then Johnny Johnson switched the switch
Santa's hands clicked six o'clock
and every light in Medford Town
blew out block, by block, by block

Then Boston, Providence, then state by state
America turned black as slate!
Then Canada, then Mexico
fell into the deep shadow

Then the Kremlin, then the Eiffel Tower
were soon to be out of power
London, Rio, Tokyo
were in the dark, but in the know

And in this blackout, all did stand
heartbroken down to every man
till Missy Johnson's eyes looked up
and her little voice did there erupt

"The stars! The stars! Above our heads!
They've never been so clear!" She said.
And everyone was quite amazed
to see the Milky Way ablaze!

Ten billion stars for every eye
stretched across the newborn sky.
Satellites and meteors
each were counted by the score

Who would have thought the sky would know
how to put on a Christmas show?
Without the plastic, blinking stuff
the sky itself was just enough

See, all it took on Christmas night
to guide three kings was one star's light
The people stood on Christmas block
and held on to that simple thought

Christmas could be neon-free
with no Santas, Frosties, reindeer, see?!
The people round all sighed relief
'cause tangled lights can cause such grief

The next year out on Christmas block
they lit a candle on a rock
and gathered round it merrily
and sang a Christmas melody

And no one seemed to even care
that decorations weren't even there
though maybe they could steal the scene
on the holiday called Halloween

QUOTE: "Christmas is a bridge. We need bridges as the river of time flows past. Today's Christmas should mean creating happy hours for tomorrow and reliving those of yesterday." ~ Gladys Tabor

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas is the Saddest Day of the Year (Jill Sobule)

Can't say that I agree with these (The Christians and the Pagans depressing? - what?!?... and it's River, buddy, not The River)... but interesting article...

This list of sad Christmas songs first ran as a feature in Creative Loafing, back when it was the Weekly Planet, in 2002. I then re-posted it here at TampaCalling last December.

Unfortunately, the list is again proving appropriate, even more this year than during any holiday season in my lifetime. So, I decided to revive the entire article that ran in the old Weekly Planet under the title “Blue Christmas: Songs to avoid (or wallow in) for the season.” Cheers.

Originally published 12.18.02:

As anybody living on this side of a Rockwell canvas already knows, the holidays aren’t always the happiest time of the year. If you’re strapped for cash, feeling lonely or disenfranchised, Christmas usually ushers in as much grief as joy. So, to help deal with the potential doldrums of this week of all Madison Avenue weeks, here’s a list of 12/25 songs from the past three decades that wittily reflect — in no uncertain terms — the occasionally grim realities of the season. (Such pre-rock classics as “White Christmas” harbor nearly as much melancholy as merriment, as well, but Jewish composers like Irving Berlin buried the sentiment a bit deeper in the subtext than today’s songwriters.)

The alphabetically listed tunes posted below range from poignant (”Pretty Paper”) and irreverent (”Fairy Tale of New York”) to humorous (”The Christians and the Pagans”) and morbid (”Brick”) — the overriding criteria for the selections being reality-based storytelling traditionally missing from the standard holiday fare. And although John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” made the cut, political songs with less universal emotional gravity — Steve Earle’s “Christmas in Washington,” Randy Newman’s “Christmas in Capetown” — were deemed unworthy. As was Elvis’ generic “Blue Christmas” and the well-intentioned but nauseating 1980s sap-fest “Do they Know It’s Christmas.”

Included after the artists’ name is the best budget album on which to find each title. This little perk is just in case you’re looking for that special depressing something to send your ex. You know, just to remind him or her of just how much misery they’ve caused you during this season of supposed Yuletide spirit.

“Brick” Ben Folds Five, Whatever and Ever Amen The economically challenged protagonist rises at “6 a.m. the day after Christmas” to drive his young girlfriend to the abortion clinic. Now how’s that for holiday cheer? Killer Line: “They call her name at 7:30/ I pace around the parking lot/ Then I walk down to buy her flowers/ And sell some gifts that I got.”

“The Christians and the Pagans,” Dar Williams, Mortal City How about a little humor before blowing our brains out? In this astute comedic sketch from Williams, two related families polarized by religious differences come together for a holiday meal and try to agree that
“Christmas is like solstice.” Killer Line: “The food was great, the tree plugged in, the meal had gone without a hitch/ Till Timmy turned to Amber and said, “Is it true that you’re a witch?”

“Christmas in Prison,” John Prine, Sweet Revenge John Prine is one of few songwriters who could take such clich├ęd country-music terrain as prison, heartache and Christmas, and come up with something that smacked of true sincerity — no big surprises, but genuinely moving. Killer Line: “It’s Christmas in prison/ There’ll be music tonight/ I’ll probably get homesick/ I love you/ Goodnight.”

“Fairytale of New York,” The Pogues, If I Should Fall From Grace With God A homeless couple’s dialogue begins cheerily but by the end of this four-minute exchange, vile nastiness prevails. Killer Line: “You’re a punk/ You’re an old slut on junk … You scum bag/ You maggot/ You cheap lousy faggot/ Happy Christmas your arse/ I pray God/ It’s our last.”

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” John Lennon, John Lennon Anthology The man who said his band was bigger than Jesus Christ, and then got a nice little ribbing from the American right, gets his revenge by using the ol’ Christian-taunting “Xmas” in the title of a hit song reminding everyone how shitty life is. Killer Line: “And so this is Xmas/ For weak and for strong/ For rich and the poor ones/ The world is so wrong.”

“If We Make It Through December” Merle Haggard, If We Make It Through December This is Haggard’s holiday twist on his patented “Workingman Blues” theme — a real beauty marked by strong source material, smart production and sensitive vocals. Killer Line: “I don’t mean to hate December/ It’s meant to be the happy time of year/ But my little girl don’t understand/ Why daddy can’t afford no Christmas here.”

“Merry Christmas From the Family” Robert Earl Keen, Gringo Honeymoon Easily viewed as xenophobic and perhaps borderline racist in today’s hypersensitive climate — “Little sister brought her new boyfriend/ He was a Mexican/ We didn’t know what to think of him/ Till he sang ‘Feliz Navidad’” — the song is also a humorous tale of the Christmas Vacation variety, emphasizing the importance of tolerance. At least among kin and their significant others. Killer Line: “Send somebody to the Quik-Pak store/ We need … a can of bean dip and some Diet Rite/ A box of tampons and some Marlboro Lights.”

“Pretty Paper,” Roy Orbison, The All-Time Greatest Hits of Roy Orbison Paired with Orbison’s tortured warble, this Willie Nelson-penned bad-love ballad expresses bitterness with a subdued maturity foreign to the country and pop/rock music of the era (it was a hit for Orbison in 1963). Killer Line: “In the distance the ringing of laughter/ And in the midst of the laughter he cries.”

“The River” (a.k.a. “It’s Coming on Christmas”), Joni Mitchell, Blue The slow, off-key “Jingle Bells” intro is the perfect prelude to one of the saddest Christmas songs ever. Killer Line: “I made my baby cry.”

“The Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning,” Willie Nelson, Legendary Country Singers, Time-Life Music The cuckolded singer knowingly tolerates his woman’s infidelities because her love makes him “feel complete” and he doesn’t want to spend Christmas alone. Of course, she walks anyway. Nelson didn’t write this one but he emotes as if the incident happened to him shortly before committing the song to tape. Killer Line: “Last night you came home and I knew you’d been drinking/ By that old mellow look on your face/ But I thought it don’t matter because it’s the holiday season/ And you fill such a big, empty space.”

P.S. Another SMM...

BOOK: Home For Christmas: Stories For Young And Old by Miriam Leblanc

POEM: The Winter of Listening by David Whyte

No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
the night wind carries
everything away outside.

All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
and intense
round every living thing.

What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
its presence.

What we strive for
in perfection
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
we desire,
what disturbs
and then nourishes
has everything
we need.

What we hate
in ourselves
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.

Inside everyone
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born.
Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.

All those years
listening to those
who had
nothing to say.
All those years
how everything
has its own voice
to make
itself heard.

All those years
how easily
you can belong
to everything
simply by listening.
And the slow
of remembering
how everything
is born from
an opposite
and miraculous

Silence and winter
has led me to that
So let this winter
of listening
be enough
for the new life
I must call my own.

QUOTE: "Christmas is a time when you get homesick - even when you're home." ~ Carol Nelson

Monday, December 15, 2008

What Do Bad Girls Get? (Joan Osborne)

Oh my goodness, Bill is back in my life - it's been four years, and the sound of his name still elicits a smile... :-)

Before anyone gets too worried... Bill is my contractor, who re-did my kitchen in the summer of 2004 - however, when one spends two months, day in/day out, with a person... one can't help but become a bit enmeshed. It was fun, it was flirty, it was innocent - we'd have heart-to-heart talks, we'd bond over tile samples, we'd laugh and banter... and I knew how he took his coffee - for eight weeks, I referred to him as my second husband.

He'd call and say, "whoooo's your favorite contractor?" when he had particularly good news to share (he'd gotten a good price on a granite countertop... or he'd found the perfect backsplash) - we even had a few fights... about the placement of the cabinet knobs or why it was all taking so long. I got to the point where, when friends asked me how it was coming, I'd semi-joke... "don't say the K word!" - Bill told me at the beginning of the job, "you'll love me, and then you'll hate me, and then you'll love me again"...

So... a few weeks ago, out of the blue, Bill phoned my first (and only) husband and asked R to spread the word that he'd expanded his crew and was looking to pick up a few more jobs - we have vacillated with our bathroom woes, part of us just wanting to do bare minimum, replace the floor and get back on with life... and the other part figuring... hey, it's already torn up so we might as well demo the rest, spend a bit of money and get a complete overhaul.

I said we should call Bill... so I did - of course, we had to chat 45 minutes (to fill each other in on spouses, children and jobs) before I got to the crux of the matter. Could he come out to take a look and give us an estimate and a time frame? - that was Friday morning, he arrived later that afternoon and we were both delighted at the reuniting. He was back today, I signed the contract and I experienced that old excitement: "I love the smell of paint in the morning" (with apologies to Apocalypse Now) - I'm getting a new bathroom for Christmas... as well as that giggly schoolgirl feeling again. I'll be good - I promise... :-)

P.S. Another SMM...

What Do Bad Girls Get? by Joan Osborne

Santa's Little Instruction Book: Have You Been Naughty or Nice? by Scott Matthews, Barbara Alpert

POEM: Remodeling the Bathroom by Ellen Bass

If this were the last
day of my life, I wouldn't complain
about the shower curtain rod
in the wrong place, even though
it's drilled into the tiles.
Nor would I fret
over water marks on the apricot
satin finish paint, half sick
that I should have used semigloss. No.
I'd stand in the doorway
watching sun glint
off the chrome faucet, breathing in
the silicone smell. I'd wonder
at the plumber, as he adjusted the hot
and cold water knobs. I'd stare
at the creases behind his ears and the gray
flecks in his stubble. I'd have to hold
myself back from touching him. Or maybe
I wouldn't. Maybe I'd stroke
his cheek and study
his eyes the amber of cellos, his rumpled
brow, the tiny garnet
threads of capillaries, his lips
resting together, quiet as old friends—
I'd gaze at him
as though his were the first
face I'd ever seen.

QUOTE: "Christmas is a time when everybody wants his past forgotten and his present remembered." ~ Phyllis Diller

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas in the Trenches (John McCutcheon)

Last night we presented John McCutcheon in our second-Saturday-of-the-month concert series - words fail me!

As one of our attendees posted to our local folk list:

I have heard John McCutcheon's music for years and experienced his opening address at Folk Alliance a few years ago. His talent, wit, and intellect always commanded my respect. But, I must confess, sitting three rows from the stage provided a vantage point on this remarkable individual. From his opening banjo and narrative on Bascar Lamar Lunsford, McCutcheon captivated us. He is a skilled and consummate musician, playing banjo, guitar, hammer dulcimer, autoharp, piano, unaccompanied vocal, and spoken word. His stage presence combines charisma with a natural, folksy style. He impresses as a very real, sincere, humorous, and outspoken fellow.

I wrote earlier in the week that this impending concert had me extremely anxious - I could not have been proven more wrong. John was accessible, gracious and down-to-earth, the entire show (from stories to songs) was captivating and polished and the room was full with an appreciative audience - the evening was bliss, and I glowed and floated my way home... :-)
My running pre-concert PR gag was... John McCutcheon is such a legend that his website is - check it out to see when he's coming to a town near you... and then go, go, go!

Today I'm showcasing one of John's most famous songs, a tune he said last night that he's asked to play year-round, despite its Christmastime theme - it has become a classic (rightfully so) and is on my holiday mix this year...

For the backstory of the 1914 Christmas truce, see here... and here...

P.S. Another SMM...

POEM: In California During the Gulf War by Denise Levertov

Among the blight-killed eucalypts, among
trees and bushes rusted by Christmas frosts,
the yards and hillsides exhausted by five years of drought,

certain airy white blossoms punctually
reappeared, and dense clusters of pale pink, dark pink—
a delicate abundance. They seemed

like guests arriving joyfully on the accustomed
festival day, unaware of the year's events, not perceiving
the sackcloth others were wearing.

To some of us, the dejected landscape consorted well
with our shame and bitterness. Skies ever-blue,
daily sunshine, disgusted us like smile-buttons.

Yet the blossoms, clinging to thin branches
more lightly than birds alert for flight,
lifted the sunken heart

even against its will.
But not
as symbols of hope: they were flimsy
as our resistance to the crimes committed

—again, again—in our name; and yes, they return,
year after year, and yes, they briefly shone with serene joy
over against the dark glare

of evil days. They are, and their presence
is quietness ineffable—and the bombings are, were,
no doubt will be; that quiet, that huge cacophany

simultaneous. No promise was being accorded, the blossoms
were not doves, there was no rainbow. And when it was claimed
the war had ended, it had not ended.

QUOTE: "People can't concentrate properly on blowing other people to pieces if their minds are poisoned by thoughts suitable to the twenty-fifth of December." ~ Ogden Nash

Friday, December 12, 2008

Simple Gifts (Gregg Cagno and Maggie Anderson)

Obviously we are all smarting from these recessionist times - the election of Barack Obama is a very good thing (Martha!)... but it's going to take time to turn the economy around.

I have been out of work for almost two months, we will spend a good bit of money traveling to South Carolina/
Georgia for the holidays and we are still in the midst of bathroom repair/renovation - enough said!

We had a family meeting a few months ago and decided we were going to set a $15 limit on presents for each other (as well as extended family and friends) - it's actually been quite fun sneaking, planning and buying within boundaries... and outside the proverbial box...

Cheers to the gift of creativity... :-)

SONG: Simple Gifts as sung by Gregg Cagno and Maggie Anderson (backstory and lyrics of the Shaker song here...)

Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case For A More Joyful Christmas by Bill McKibben

POEM: Christmas 1963 by Joseph Enzweiler

Because we wanted much that year
and had little. Because the winter phone
for days stayed silent that would call
our father back to work, and he
kept silent too with our mother,
fearfully proud before us.

Because I was young that morning
in gray light untouched on the rug
and our gifts were so few, propped
along the furniture, for a second
my heart fell, then saw how large
they made the spaces between them

to take the place of less. Because
the curtained sun rose brightly
on our discarded paper and the things
themselves, these forty years,
have grown too small to see, the emptiness
measured out remains the gift,

fills the whole room now, that whole year
out across the snowy lawn. Because
a drop of shame burned quietly
in the province of love. Because
we had little that year
and were given much.

QUOTE: "The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other." ~ Burton Hillis

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Face Lift (Joni Mitchell)

'rubs off on others'
BBC News
December 5, 2008

Happiness is infectious and can "ripple" through social groups, according to US researchers.

A study of 5,000 adults suggests a person's happiness is dependent on the happiness of those around them.

A friend who becomes happy and lives less than a mile away increases your likelihood of happiness by 25%, the British Medical Journal reported.

But the mood of work colleagues did not have an effect, the Harvard Medical School-led study found.

The researchers used data on adults who took part in the US Framingham Heart Study - set up to look at the risks leading to future heart disease - between 1971 and 2003.

Participants were asked to identify their relatives, close friends, place of residence, and place of work and were followed up every two to four years.

They were also asked whether they agreed with statements on whether they enjoyed life, felt hopeful about the future, were happy and felt they were just as good as other people.

It was found that live-in partners who become happy increased the likelihood of their partner being happy by 8% and similar effects were found for siblings living close by (14%) and neighbours (34%).

The relationship between people's happiness levels seemed to extend up to three degrees of separation - to the friend of a friend of a friend.

The analysis also showed that close physical proximity was important for the spread of happiness.

A person was 42% more likely to be happy if a friend who lives less than half a mile away becomes happy - an effect that declined with greater distance.

Study leader Professor Nicholas Christakis said the results suggest clusters of happiness occur because happiness spreads and not just because of a tendency for people to associate with similar individuals.

"Most important from our perspective is the recognition that people are embedded in social networks and that the health and wellbeing of one person affects the health and wellbeing of others."

Trees and woodlands, and living near them tends to make me happy James Shepherd, London
Professor Andrew Steptoe, a psychology expert from University College London, said: "It makes intuitive sense that if people around you are happy that might have an impact on your own happiness.

"What's a bit more surprising is that it's not just the people who you closely come into contact with but people a step removed as well."

He said the work had implications for public health.

"Happiness does seem to be associated with protective effects on health.

"If happiness is indeed transmitted through social connections, it could indirectly contribute to social transmission of health," he said.

P.S. Another SMM...

SONG: Face Lift by Joni Mitchell

BOOK: Makeovers at the Beauty Counter of Happiness by Ilene Beckerman

POEM: The Celestial Surgeon by Robert Louis Stevenson

If I have faltered more or less
In my great task of happiness;
If I have moved among my race
And shown no glorious morning face;
If beams from happy human eyes
Have moved me not; if morning skies,
Books, and my food, and summer rain
Knocked on my sullen heart in vain:-
Lord, thy most pointed pleasure take
And stab my spirit broad awake;
Or, Lord, if too obdurate I,
Choose thou, before that spirit die,
A piercing pain, a killing sin,
And to my dead heart run them in!

QUOTE(S): "Joy is the best makeup." ~ Anne Lamott

"Whoever is happy will make others happy, too." ~ Anne Frank

Monday, December 8, 2008

Happy Xmas (War is Over) - (John Lennon)

Impossible to believe that today is the 28th anniversary (a Monday, just as it was then) of the murder of John Lennon - I remember it like it was yesterday. I was living and working in Carrollton, Georgia with my husband, but had driven into Atlanta that morning to attend a full-day job-related seminar, then over to my parents' house to have dinner before heading back home later in the evening - my dad was watching football, which was interrupted with a news bulletin about the shooting.

I recall feeling sick to my stomach and not really being able to process the information - John and Yoko had just released their Double Fantasy album, which was difficult to come by because he'd been away from music for a while, but we finally procured a copy a week or so before. I kept thinking short-term of the loss for Yoko and Sean and John's fans... but also long-term in that it meant there would never be a Beatles reunion.

Strangely enough, when they released the name of John's killer, my husband recognized Mark David Chapman as one of the junior counselors when my husband was a senior counselor at the YMCA in Decatur, Georgia years earlier - what a sordid bit of synchronicity (as John was always my husband's favorite Beatle)...

Some of you know I'm a regular contributor (since early November) at Star Maker Machine, a very cool collaborative blog in which we staff members are given a theme each week and post some of our favorite songs which apply, as well as write about the history behind - thanks to Anne for sharing a lovely story song of the event a few days before...

I'd been noticing the movie
Chapter 27 (based on the book below) on our OnDemand cable menu, and last night decided to watch it - Jared Leto did an unexpectedly amazing job portraying Chapman, and the film, although explaining little, was successful in providing an eerie glimpse of Chapman's irrational and random decision-making processes (at one point, after getting his album autographed, he had convinced himself to fly back to Hawaii and seek counseling)...

[ Added 12/9/08: No Peace at NBC by Roger Catlin, December 4, 2008 ]

Happy Xmas (War is Over) by John Lennon (backstory here...)

Let Me Take You Down: Inside the Mind of Mark David Chapman, the Man Who Killed John Lennon by Jack Jones

POEM: Rememberance by Rainer Maria Rilke

And you wait, keep waiting for that one thing
which would infinitely enrich your life:
the powerful, uniquely uncommon,
the awakening of dormant stones,
depths that would reveal you to yourself.

In the dusk you notice the book shelves
with their volumes in gold and in brown;
and you think of far lands you journeyed,
of pictures and of shimmering gowns
worn by women you conquered and lost.

And it comes to you all of a sudden:
That was it! And you arise, for you are
aware of a year in your distant past
with its fears and events and prayers.

QUOTE: "If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there'd be peace." ~ John Lennon

Sunday, December 7, 2008

I Need a Silent Night (Amy Grant)

I've had a headache most of last night and all of today - I've taken Tylenol on a regular basis, but it barely makes a dent. I had to bow out of an invitation to a friend's birthday party this afternoon, and stayed home to take it easy - I truly believe this is stress-related...

Too many things on my ever-lengthening To Do List and not enough time to accomplish - thankyoujesus we finally had the plumbing situation taken care of Wednesday, as they re-routed all the piping through the attic (rather than ripping up the floors). Now it's on to replacing the tile from when part of the bathroom floor was jackhammered in an attempt to find the leak - will head out to get samples first thing in the morning and hope to have the tile guys come later in the week to get that bathroom usable again.

I'm still fine-tuning my holiday mix and should have that ready for duplication and distribution in a few days - bought the bordered stationery for our holiday newsletter and need to compose and print that... as well as address, sign, stamp and mail about 50 cards (bought last year but never sent).

Trying not to freak out at the fact we're presenting John McCutcheon this Saturday night - I'm in charge of booking, promoting and producing a second-Saturday-of-the-month concert series. Our performances usually feature a co-bill of a Florida artist with a national touring musician, and are of a high level of talent but affordable - I am proud to say I orchestrated the solo McCutcheon show, but had to up the guarantee (which I don't think we'll have problems meeting... but still...). Our local folk and acoustic DJ aired a phone interview with John earlier today... and as he was listing the number of instruments he'll be bringing to South Florida, my head pounded even more - our sound guys are great... and have been provided a tech requirement... but still... I am equally looking forward to and dreading Saturday night - I know I'm worrying needlessly... but still... :-)

Then there's holiday shopping and planning for our trip (two weeks from now, for a week away) - the beat goes on... and on... and on. I have vowed to wake up tomorrow morning, focus on what needs to be done and machete through my list like the proverbial hot knife through butter. Oh yeah... and get back in my walking routine... and make healthier food choices too - and don't forget World Peace!

P.S. More SMM here... and here...

Lessen the doldrums
of fellow bipeds
Coax their spirits
to busk and bounce
Squeeze their chakras
Ungum their works
Use any trick you know
to redeem humanity
from impotent glum
Inject with joy
inseminate with light
the wombs of mankind

QUOTE: "I can understand people simply fleeing the mountainous effort Christmas has become... but there are always a few saving graces and finally they make up for all the bother and distress." ~ May Sarton