Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass- it is about learning to dance in the rain.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Ready for the New Year??

I just cleaned the fridge. I think that makes me ready for the New Year. The granddaughters are coming over later -- we're celebrating the big event together. Probably they'll last until 10 P.M. or so...I may fall asleep before then!!! But I went grocery shopping for kid friendly foods. And...checked all the dates of things in my refrigerator. Amazing!! Salad dressings look perfectly good and may have a date of, oh....say 2006, even if the seal is not broken. (The farm girl in me says oil and vinegar will last until Jesus comes, especially in the refrigerator...but...whatever! Jesus probably doesn't want old oil and vinegar to eat! But I have a twinge of guilt...I could have given it to someone who did need it!!) Duh! Well everything is now fresh and in date. And it makes me feel good in spite of that huge plastic bag that had to be carried out to the dumpster.

One day this week, I'm going through every box and can in the pantry. The bathroom cabinets are next! This place is going to be purged!!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Sunny & clear
El Monte, California
December 28, 2007

Santa Anita, California
The classic Southern California three palm trees on each side of the entrance

Whittier, California

Elgin, Il
This is what we're going back home to tomorrow!!!
(I was trying to get the mountains in the background in the top picture. I had the wrong camera. My little Power Shot is terrific -- but for that distance I needed the SLR...which I didn't bring.)

Merry Christmas aboard the plane.
Bob & I address our Christmas Cards (12-25-2007)

Desiree and I in the Garment District

John, as usual, led me to the best bargains!
Here we are with BAGS of STUFF!

Front, from left: John, Bob, Luz
Back, from left: Faith, Angeline, Desiree
Bob and I that first night in "COLD" California!!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

December 26

My pet peeve is people who won't take turns, cut in lines and in general, cheat, to get waited on first. My experience has been that the more upscale the store, the more polite the customer and the less likely to experience line cutting and other rude, obnoxious behavior.

I was steaming today! The scene was really terrible. A long line of women in a lingerie department muttered and shuffled, merchandise and coupons in hand. There were two checkout people. One attended to people fairly efficiently. The other, a rather young woman, was attempting to assist a customer with returns, refunds and re-purchases. This was an upscale department store; the irrational woman demanding double coupon value carried an expensive brand name handbag. Her manners were left at home. The temptation to respond in kind was tremendous!!
Finally the young clerk had had it. She called a manager about the double coupon demand, then told the customer she had to take a lunch break. The customer, of course, was livid. I would have been gleeful, except by now I was second from the cash register. I knew the horrid customer was going to jump in front of me. But of course the family in front of me also had refunds and returns as well as new purchases. It took too long.
So by the time it was my turn, the offending customer had gathered up her things and moved over to my side of the counter. There I stood, one single item in hand. I ask you: how many times have you said to a person with one single item, "just go ahead?" I make a habit of doing so regularly. If I have a cartful and the person behind me has one item, I invariable let them go next. In my dreams!!!
In the meantime my brother-in-law had stood in a long line, paid for merchandise, been charged incorrectly, and even went to another department to have the correction made. By now he and my niece are standing there watching this drama.
So the offending customer, for the record we'll call her Amani Khomeini, was pulling her act on the older clerk. Politely, but firmly Rossario explained she could not get BOTH $10.00 on a $25.00 item, AND a 15% discount ON TOP OF the 40% discount on everything that she was returning but RE-BUYING. The merchandise was rung up, but Amani insisted it was wrong. Rossario cleared it all. Returned the merchandise once again; applied the discounts and recorded the purchase of the SAME items AGAIN!!
By now I'm foaming at the mouth. My brother-in-law was watching with open mouth. THEN Amani's MOTHER, who had been BEHIND ME in the line plops HER 15 sweaters on the counter to be discounted, etc.
My lame, "Excuse me, I'm next," was completely ignored.
My brother-in-law asked me aloud, "What's happening"
Loudly in ENGLISH, I respond, "This lady, who was BEHIND me in the line, has cut in front with her daughter."
"Well, that's rude," he responds. All said in clear earshot of the two women (and the 15 women still in the line behind me).
At his censure, Amani's mother offers HIM a $10 off a $25.00 purchase coupon. He asks me if I can use it. (I think in her culture, she can't be nice to an American woman?????)
At first I said, "No." Just on general principle. But after thinking it over, I figured $10 is $10. So I suggested we try it. He goes back to Mrs. Amani, Sr. and says, "maybe it will work."

Meantime, (Are you ready for this???) Amani's daughter walks up with five pricey purses and a jacket with a fur collar and begins talking to mom in Persian (or maybe Pashto). After Amani's mom's purchases are paid for, the purses are plopped on the counter and Amani Jr. buys her things. At that point Amani apologized to MY BROTHER-IN-LAW!!!! "I'm soddi. Theese ees my fambily."

The upshot? The $10 coupon worked. I sinned in my heart, but not with my mouth!!! My facial expression was nowhere near Christian. And I repented being in a department store the day after Christmas.

I'm not sure what my problem is! I don't know if I'm living right, living on the edge, or falling off the deep end!!!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

December 25

We celebrated last night with the kids. Had a great time -- pics later. Can't believe I'm actually doing this. We catch a plane to L.A. in 4 1/2 hours. I haven't packed a thing!!! First thing on my list: Upload pics from last night, burn cd and take to Lucy. We're going to visit Bob's birth mom and she hasn't seen the girls in awhile, so I have to take pictures. But I also have to wear some kind of clothes for 5 days. Gotta go or I'll be running around L.A. buck naked!! Can't do that!!! Yuck!


Saturday, December 22, 2007

"I'll be home for Christmas" by Josh Groban

Home for Christmas

While I was out today, I stopped at a local Italian grocery store chain where I've recently been purchasing a few things. This one was at a different location than my usual. It was so European in flavor, customers and product, that I kept thinking about the stores in Budapest.

I think my mind went to Budapest because I was watching customers who were obviously from widely varied parts of the world: Asia, Eastern Europe, the Mideast as well as the U.S. Families were shopping for Christmas food and looking for traditional ethnic things they were accustomed to. It reminded me of our week in Hungary, looking for breakfast food in the store when we could not read the name of the product. "Is this cheese, Cream cheese or butter?" we'd ask one another. Sometimes we chose well; sometimes we ate sour cream with our bread and jam!

The shoppers would read the ingredients aloud to one another, ask questions and either nod or shake their heads. Since the labels and the conversation were in Polish, Italian, Slavic or some other language I could not identify, I only guessed at the content of their conversation. But I recognize that search for something to remind one of home and traditions while living in a new land. Been there, done that. It's readable in the faces, the anxious pose of the body, the pitch of the voice.

And then there are those American young men and women who are away from home serving their country. I want to remember them too, remember that in their loneliness, discomfort and danger they are protecting me and the freedoms we enjoy.

God this year as we celebrate, help me to remember to be thankful. Protect those men and women who are serving us well in far away places, giving us the privilege of living here in relative luxury. Give comfort and peace to those who wander far from loved ones and home. Help them to find solace in this hectic time. Give us all a thankful heart. God bless us everyone!!
December 22, 2007

I was really out there today!!! I've been asking Bob for gift ideas...Yesterday he remembered he needed a calendar refill for his Franklin Covey planner. I knew he refills it every year, but neither he nor I remembered earlier., I braved the traffic and headed to Woodfield Mall to get his planner.

History of Woodfield: Opened in 1971, it was the largest in the U.S. at that time and second in the world. It now ranks only 9th in size compared to malls in the U.S. It doesn't even get a mention in largest malls in the world!

Three days before Christmas, I head there. It was worth it. I have the prized Julie Morgenstern refill for his planner.

A day well spent. I wrote our Christmas letter, acquired two new microphone cords for the children's musical tomorrow, found a present for Bob and bought a few groceries. That all took....oh let's see...from 11 AM to 5:30 P.M. I'm tired!!

I will really try not to get near a shop of any kind until after Christmas!!!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Concert & Art Exhibit
No, NO, we're not on exhibit. That's just Dad, Grandma, Mom and the other Grandma!!!

Here's M1's art

She points it out to us

M2's Art -- The nativity in torn paper

Aunt Christy was there too!

M1 in her classroom and talking with a friend

M2 with friends

M1 and I

M2 and I

M2 stays focused on singing even when the other kids are not.


That's M1 in the middle. They're "waiting" for the 4th graders to join them!

Christmas Concert!
(I also have video!!! But haven't uploaded yet!)
I lost my holiday cheer tonight

I wasn't on an actual holiday errand -- or was it? I guess it was. We have a potluck breakfast at school on the Friday classes let out. I signed up for a hashbrown potato casserole and didn't have all the ingredients. So after the granddaughters Christmas concert tonight, I head out to the grocery store. I'm tired and slow. Finally load things up and decide I'm hungry. I didn't have time to eat before the concert -- just a fast cup of soup. So I drive through a fast food joint (uh-oh!) and order two pieces of fish. Just as I order a car pulls in behind me and I'm forever trapped in the line. I sat there in one spot for 15 minutes (Fast???) getting more and more annoyed. I could have MADE me something to eat in less time. It was finally 25 minutes when I got to the window to pay and get the food. I asked to see a manager. The cutest little girl (She couldn't have been more than 17 or so) was at the window and said, "You can just tell me."

"Okay. I know this isn't your fault, but I've been in the line for twenty-five minutes. That isn't fast food. I could have had a 3 course meal at a full service restaurant (I named a fish place) by now. "

She sort of was an obvious exaggeration. And said they were having trouble with the computer. What could I say to such a child.

"Well, let the manager know, they need to call somebody to fix something. I'm tired; I'm irritated; I'm no longer hungry."

And I left. Without the food.

Oh dear!! Was that just too rude? The poor child's face took on a sad look. I could just imagine my granddaughter there in 10 years.

There's no getting out of the lane once you're in it. On one side is the building; on the other side is a retaining wall. It's a trap!!! I should have known better than to try for fast food. So now I'm waiting for the potatoes to cook. I'm having hashbrown casserole at midnight!!! And if I'd just come straight home, I would be eating it by now!!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"All Much Better"

When she was three, M1 used to say "All much better now," if we'd kiss her ouchie. My nerves are "all much better." The Dr. pronounced everything normal. My symptoms were just side effects of the Femara. So...that yearly exam is over for the next...oh, 15 months or so. :) It was a bit funny though. He could not spot the reconstruction. Because the plastic surgeon did a bit of repair to the other "girl", the reconstructed one looks better than the other!! My plastic surgeon is obsessed with making a matching pair. Makes me laugh... I can recommend a really good plastic surgeon if anyone is in need of one!!!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Song: The Most Inconvenient Christmas
(by the Oak Ridge Boys)

I just love this song. And had fun making the movie!!!
One of the ways my roots show up is in music. Now and then I just have to have a Country Gospel song. This one amuses me and makes me laugh, but it also makes me think!!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Company's Coming!

As a small child, I remember the excitement those words would evoke: "Company's coming!" It also meant I had to clean my room. We had a small two-bedroom cottage in the country. When anyone came to visit, they slept in the bedroom that belonged to my sister and I. As the oldest, I was responsible to be sure the room was completely clean, including the closet, under the bed, and in that corner I loved to stash things to use "later." I was never very good at cleaning; my mother always had to help me.

It occurred to me today that that's exactly the message Mary received, so long ago. "
Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name, Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." (Luke 1:30-33)

Which interpreted (PJ's Version) says, "Mary, you have company coming, very important company who will be very important now and in the future." Hmmm

Mary knew she wasn't prepared for this impressive guest to arrive, so she went to get counsel from her good friend and cousin, Elizabeth. Upon arrival, Elizabeth confirmed the angel's message and affirmed the value of Mary to the future of the Kingdom.

In response to Elizabeth's blessing, Mary responded with the very well-known marvelous Magnificat:

"My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name. " (Luke 1:46-49)

PJ'S Version: I will give thanks to the Lord from the bottom of my heart, and be joyful because God has chosen to take me, a nobody, and give me this honor. Although in my community being with child and unwed is ordinarily a disgrace, now and forever, my name will be honored because God has chosen to do this great thing for me.

"His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts."
(Luke 1:50-51)

PJ's Version: God will extend forgiveness and mercy to people who love and serve him. He is a strong God who will scatter those who will not accept the Work of God, who will choose to make fun of me, choose to believe that I have brought disgrace on myself and my family and refuse to believe that this anointing (child) is from God. God will use his mighty strength against those who "imagine" that they are holier, and can speak for God Himself.

"He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty."
(Luke 1:52-53)

PJ's Version: God has ushered in a new paradigm in which ordinary people will accomplish His great work. God will fill hungry hearts even though they come from poor environments; he will make them part of His Kingdom. But those who believe they have it all and are self-sufficient, he will send away.

"He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers."
(Luke 1:54-55)

PJ's Version: God has remembered to extend mercy to the Jewish people and to Israel. He will continue to do so according to His promises, even to those spiritual descendants, the church, who will later receive the promise.

And Mary stayed with her cousin, Elizabeth, for three months. Together, they prepared to receive the promises of God: John the Baptist and Jesus. They cleaned house and prepared for Company.

God as Christmas approaches, I recognize that I need to clean house. And I'm not very good at this cleaning either. There are attitudes, behaviors and relationships that I need to work on, to "clean up," but I need your help. We're celebrating the coming of Jesus Christ our Savior who lives in my heart, and I want to embrace this Season with the idea that I must prepare for that very important personage. I recognize that I am powerless to "self-improve", I need your grace and mercy. With David, I pray:

"Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

(Psalm 51:7-12)

May you have a Blessed Christmas!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Now that I've actually identified what's bugging me, maybe I can actually write something.

Christmas Tales
Tale #3

I'm in the mood for a more luxurious Christmas story. How about. . .the Bahamas on a budget!!
Christmas Angels
Once upon a Christmas, our plane landed on Grand Bahama Island. It was a glorious day with the sun shining brightly. Someone had said that you could see the sharks in the water from the plane. Lo and Behold! It was so. They may have been dolphins or other large fish; let us not quibble about such trivia. Nonetheless as the plane came in for landing, large critters could be seen swimming in this crystal clear bay. We were thrilled.

The boys were teenagers, one a Sophomore, the other a Senior in High School. We had thought it might be our last chance for a exotic vacation with both boys. And it was our last vacation with just the four of us. Bob had surfed the net scrupulously to find the least costly vacation to a sunny spot by the sea. He found an all-inclusive for four days at a really low price. We could hardly sit in our seats!!

For four days we played volleyball on a sandy beach, swam in marvelous pools, and took in the local sights. We had very little money beyond what we had paid for the four days, but it wasn't really a problem. There was plenty of food offered at the hotel. It did get a bit boring. We prefer trying the local stuff. So one night we ate at a fancy restaurant overlooking the ocean.
That was exciting! The sharks came in and ate the table scraps. I kid you not. Diners could go out on a pier and drop scraps to the sharks. (Gottcha. You thought the sharks swam up to the table, didn't you?)
Then on Christmas day, we rented little motor scooters to go explore the island. I was a terrible driver!! (Do you call it driving on a motor scooter?) My High School Senior keep reminding me to stay on the LEFT SIDE!!! Everytime I turned a corner, I'd get confused and wander to the wrong side of the road. He became my guardian angel for that ride. I also had a habit of turning the wheel around corners. Apparently even on bicycles, the way to turn corners it to lean the bike. Duh!! So I never learned the RIGHT WAY to ride a bike. "Lean, Mom. Don't turn the wheel, or you'll skid," He'd say. And I'd try.
That's an interesting switch: the point at which the offspring becomes the adult and the parent is the learner.
However, as we arrived at the far end of the island, he discovered that his bike was using gasoline much faster than the rest of them. Fortunately, he's the kind of person who's always alert to such things. I rarely glance at a gas gage. Mostly my gasoline lasts all week. I gas up on the weekend, just in case it should be low. (You don't want to know how many times I've run out of gas!!! LOL)
So here we were on Christmas Day, at McLean's Town (On the map it's called a settlement!). Many miles from Freeport. Finally we found a small restaurant, of sorts that was open. It was more like someone's private kitchen and dining room with 3 tables. Out the open back door, the family was grilling their dinner over open coals in a grassless dirt patch that served as patio. We drank a Coke and asked about gasoline. No, there's none available on this East End of the island. So we sat debating whether we could siphon enough gasoline from the three bikes to put in his, and how we'd accomplish this task. We were seated in this hut, at a wobbly-legged table with a not-so-clean oil cloth cover drinking pop and discussing possibilities, when a local man in dreadlock and extremely casual clothing walked up and said maybe he could help. He could get us a tank of gas, he said.
Grateful, we traipsed out to follow him, pushing our scooters for a couple of blocks. He went to a car, unscrewed the gas cap, took a small piece of rubber hose from his pocket and proceeded to fill our tank. We paid him for the gasoline and headed out. He didn't even want to take our money, but we insisted.
I've always wondered if that was his car!!! He was being helpful and in some of these places, ownership is a very flexible concept. If you need it worse than someone else, it's yours.
Our guardian angel that day wored ragged overalls, sported dreadlocks and spoke English using Bahamian colloquialisms. It was a great Christmas, complete with two guardian angels!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Jesus, Born in Bethlehem

Okay I lied. This is from last Friday. I think I'm just not in the mood to write anything so I'm posting videos. Maybe after that awful year exam on Monday I'll feel a lot better. I have this terrible dread even thinking about going to a Doctor to check for the big "C".


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Noe practicing "O Holy Night" in Spanish to sing at his father's church in Guatemala on Christmas Eve. Rod is accompanying him impromptu, with no music at all. in Guatemala Noe will sing to a track. While he's singing, I'm roaming around getting video of all and sundry. (That's me in the orange top pretending to sing!) Lots of friends there. And. . . I didn't even get to the other room, we call it the multi-cultural room because it's decorated with findings from all of Rod's journeys. That room, too, was full of people. We did have fun that night.

Couldn't resist just one more musical post. I'm fascinated that I have learned how to post the video from my little camera. If you're bored to tears by now...I promise no more music posts for at least a week. (Until the rehearsal for the kids' Christmas musical!)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christmas Sing continues.
Spanish and English version of "O Come All Ye Faithful".
("Venid Adoremos")

I figured out how to cut the clip in half!!
A Rainy Winter Day

We had an ice storm starting about midnight. The roads were a sheet of ice until after 9 a.m., so school was canceled. About 10 a.m. things were fairly passable, but the weather is bleary: gray, dreary and leaving me blue. So I decided to start looking for beauty as I drove. I shot the photos above, but it didn't help much. Pictures don't do justice to that tangible feeling of a gray curtain descending on everything one can see. Vision is dim; the light is dim. It feels like driving through a damp gossamer world of gray veils.

So I decided to go to my favorite spot in Elgin. Anytime I'm feeling blue, the beauty there cheers me us. So camera in hand, I stopped by a park on a rainy winter day.

Stopping by the Park on a Rainy Day

Monday, December 10, 2007

A clip from the Christmas gathering at Rod's house. My other clips are too large and won't the Spanish one will have to do!!

I think I did something wrong -- I didn't mean for all the others to appear here too!! Hmmm. Just a little techno info can be dangerous!!!! Must figure out how to fix later. For now -- on to the next thing on my to do list!!!
"I have plans for you," declares the Lord,
"Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.
Plans to give you hope and a future."
Jeremiah 29:11
It was a busy week.
Blogs still to do:
Christmas decorations at home;
More Christmas Tales;
New snow pictures
Nutcracker Ballet
Christmas gathering
I'm so far behind, soon I'll think I'm ahead.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Driving To Work On a Snowy Morn
December 5, 2007
Christmas Tales
"Attic Treasures"

Once Upon a Christmas, my grown, married sons unwrapped old skateboards. They were not just any old skateboards; these were old skateboards with history. I had stumbled across them, literally, cleaning the attic that summer and decided it was time to bequeath them to the boys. It was a time for memories.

The skateboard had been purchased the summer we returned from Ecuador. By then the boys were 6 and 7 years old. We landed back in the good old USA flat broke with what we could carry in two suitcases each, with two boys to feed, no jobs, no car, and no home. A former employer immediately gave Bob a job which included an apartment. We were grateful. Friends furnished the apartment with odds and ends of furniture, dishes and bedding. We were doubly grateful. Another friend loaned us a car for temporary use. What can I say? We have wonderful friends. Within a week I, too, was back with a former employer. We could breath. That first month, we could purchase groceries, gasoline and pay utilities. That was it.

Then there was trouble in the playground. The boys were too quiet, wanting to stay in the apartment most of the time (there was no tv, no video games). I could tell something was wrong. I inquired.

"The kids here won't play with us," they reported.

"Why not?" I asked.

"We don't have any toys to share."

"You have the Tonkas. You have Matchbox cars."

"But we don't have any BIG toys. We don't have bikes or hot wheels so we can play with them."

"Won't they share sometimes?"

"Not if we don't have any big toy to trade for awhile. They don't want to play with the cars we have."

So Bob and I discussed the situation and decided we could use the grocery money to buy skateboards. We'd have very little for food, but I thought I could just swing it. We told the boys that there would be no chips, no cookies, not even juice. Just plain cereal and milk for breakfast. Dinners would be rice and beans and maybe potatoes once in awhile. Lunch would be a sandwich or Mac and cheese. Could they do that?

Their response was immediate. "Sure."

So as soon as I got paid on Friday night, I bought two skateboards for $10 each. One was blue, one yellow, plain, but sturdy. On Saturday two ecstatic boys came in for a peanut butter sandwich at lunch. The skateboards were a hit. They were part of the social group now.

And when they unwrapped the almost forgotten old skateboards years later, we shared tears and hugs remembering those difficult, but joyful days. And gave thanks to God for his constant hand on our lives this and every Christmas.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Christmas Tales
Jungle BellsThis picture is not of Ecuador. But I promise the view from the kitchen window of our cottage looked just like this. Note the brown foliage in the palms. Those are banana palms. No one takes a picture of the bottom of the banana palm unless it has been recently pruned.

This is as close as I could get to what a banana palm really looks like. (on the left) But even here, the camera is a foot or so up the trunks of the palms. Those dead brown leaves are typical of the bottom of the palms. And under that pile of dead fronds live dozens of little scampery things -- bugs I can't identify, and other "stuff" that likes dead leaves! On the right the beautiful "Elephant Ear" poses. Ours wasn't landscaped and tended this nicely, but that lush green looks great anyway!

"Jungle Bells"

Once upon a Christmas, in a land far away and a time long ago, we faced the approaching Yuletide Season with minimal celebratory resources. Our tiny cottage sat near the main highway from Quito, seven kilometers from Santo Domingo de Los Colorados. We'd been in the country only six months, and our belongings still sat in port in Guayaquil, tied up in a bureaucratic SNAFU. My Christmas decorations and cooking utensils, among other pertinent items, awaited redemption more than a three hours drive south. I really wanted a festive atmosphere for our little boys that year.

Outside our house the landscape boasted banana palms (nasty looking little things, not at all graceful like the tall slender coconut palms), and broad leaf "Elephant Ears" grew wherever a slight dip in the landscape provided a soggy spot. The Elephant Ears were beautiful (unlike the banana palms), but there was not an evergreen to be found. Not a pine, not a fir, not a spruce, not a even a cedar tree graced this spot near the Equator. So, being the persistent Southern girl that I am, I improvised. I wanted sparkle; I wanted Christmas green like I had known.

At the market I found some shiny craft paper with which to make decorations. For a couple of days, the boys and I made a sort of Japanese lantern from the paper to hang on our tree. I look high and low and could find nothing for a tree. Even at the fancy store in Quito where
for exorbitant designer prices, they sold ornaments we'd find in discount stores in the U.S. , there was nothing remotely resembling a tree. So I made that too. I found cardboard, cut out two shapes of a tree, covered both with the shiny paper, slit the top of one and the bottom of the other and fit them together to make a three dimensional shape. Voila! We had a Christmas tree. The boys were excited to help place our little homemade ornaments on the tree. (It really doesn't take much to please a 3- and a 4-year old). This two foot tall wonder sat in a corner atop a small table. (The corner was necessary; it was just a tad wobbly!) Since I didn't have garland or lights, we popped popcorn and strung what they didn't eat on our baby tree. We finished off the decor around the house with some fresh greenery and candles.

That year I also discovered sweetened condensed milk. A large chocolate bar melted and mixed with the milk makes delicious fudge. We had fudge galore. A turkey was out of the question. First, I had no pan in which to bake one. Second, turkeys were terribly rare. Chicken was more costly than fillet mignon; turkey cost like gold. It would be about like trying to purchase an ostrich to bake for Christmas here. Not easily do-able. For Christmas dinner I sprang for a chicken; we had chicken and dumplings.

Christmas Eve has always been our family's main celebration. We usually ate hors' d'oeuvers and opened presents. I prepared a tray of mortadela (sort of like bologna or salami), cheeses and fruit. Not to mention fudge! I even made a few cookies one day when it wasn't too hot. Okay, it was too hot. I just made them anyway!! We'd paid department store prices for a couple of plastic trucks from the big toy store, the kind of trucks we find here in the dollar store. And I had saved a couple of Match Box cars we'd brought from the states. That finished Christmas for the boys.

On Christmas Eve, we sang carols, opened presents and ate to our heart's content. Outside, in the tropical air, stars twinkled, and armadillos scampered. Nearby on the mountain, spider monkeys screeched and puma's prowled for prey. It was a Jungle Bell Christmas.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Christmas Tales
"The Burning Cloth"

Once upon a Christmas, a beautiful hand crocheted lace cloth graced our Yuletide table. It was eventide and the meal was complete. Plates had been removed, glasses carried to the living room for use while we opened presents. The dishwasher was loaded, dessert was set out on the buffet for later, and the dining room still had candles burning. An entire array of candles flickered amidst the greenery on the mantle. On the now empty dining room table in the center of the handmade all cotton tablecloth, two tall slender nutcracker candles continued to burn. Now these candles were the kind one buys at the dollar store, they were painted (probably with lead paint), not dripless, not long-lasting either. What can I say?? They cost one dollar for the two of them and they were cute. (I love nutcrackers!)

The tablecloth was a gift, of sorts. It was beautiful; it was made by hand. It was just the kind of gift that I would have treasured forever. There was one problem. The giver and I have history. Aah, you say, history!

She was an addict with several children: two teen boys and two pre-schoolers. We had helped her off and on for several years. We'd talked to her about the Gospel. From time to time she'd be arrested for being drunken and disorderly, once for shoplifting. If we found out about it in time, we'd check on the boys. Made sure they had a place to stay. We had obtained furniture for her for one apartment when she had only the oldest two boys. On numerous occasions, we had brought food, clothes and other necessities.

But a few summers ago, she had received an eviction notice. She'd brought it for me to translate and explain. I carefully explained what it meant, highlighted what date the Sheriff would come and toss her things out if she had not vacated. We inquired if she had somewhere to go. She assured us she did; she and her current partner, father of the two younger children, would take care of it. I warned her again that things would literally be thrown out on such-and-such a date. She needed to pack necessities for the children and find a place to stay. She said she understood.

We were busy with other things that summer, other missions projects and didn't follow up until I got a call from one of the teen boys. The Sheriff had come that day, tossed out their stuff while mom stood by and wailed. Both boys were with a kindly neighbor and had nothing except the clothes on their backs. When they got home from school, they found nothing but garbage on the ground, he told me. Mom had managed to find someone to lend a truck and had some of the furniture in the back of the truck, but all of their clothes were gone. Less kindly neighbors had rummaged through everything and taken anything else usable. I'm fuming, "She can find a truck AFTER things are thrown out willy nilly! Why not before?" (I didn't say THAT out loud.)

"But she did, at least put some clothes for you in a plastic bag, didn't she?"

She had not. And I was angry. Angry that a mother had not bothered to prepare for the inevitable, had not attempted to protect her teenage sons. As far as I was concerned, she was derelict in her duty. "A change of underwear for her children, at least that," my brain kept sputtering.

I headed to the store, purchased clothing for the week. Eventually one of the boys moved in with us. He finished High School. The other moved in with relatives and had to drop out of school in order to support himself.

About a year later, she brought me the tablecloth out of the blue. It was something she'd said previously she could make for me if I'd just pay for the thread. I smiled graciously, told her thank you, tried hard to remember that she is an addict struggling to keep body and soul together, and paid for the thread. The tablecloth was absolutely lovely. I knew she'd done a lot of work on it, but it reminded me of a woman who couldn't care enough for her children to stick a few clothes in a plastic bag when she knew full well she would be evicted.

We've lost touch with the family. They've moved many times and haven't called in several years. The two older boys work, hold down jobs. As far as I know, mom still drinks and does drugs. The younger children would be teenagers now. I pray for them. Maybe Mom has learned to care for these children, but somehow, I doubt it.

Back to the beautiful cotton tablecloth with two nutcracker candles burning while we were in the other room opening Christmas presents.

Rachel looked up. "I think something's on fire in the dining room," she said.

"It's just the reflection of the candles in the mirror," I replied calmly.

"I don't think so. Something's on fire. I smell smoke," she insisted. And she got up to go look.

Then we heard a shriek, and I raced to the dining room to view my two nutcracker candles bend double, the flame now merged with the burning tablecloth. I turned to the kitchen, grabbed a pitcher, and filled it with water. (No, I still don't have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, but I do know it's a good idea to have one!)

Rob (my older son) quietly entered the room. Passing the buffet, he picked up the large silver platter of cookies and candy and sat it down on the flames. I scurried into the room with my water pitcher in hand to view a silver platter with smoke seeping out from the sides. Flames all gone. Fire out. Silver platter only slightly warm. Candy and cookies unharmed. The tablecloth, though, sported a 15-inch hole rimmed in black. The table also has a large smoked circle in the antique wood surface.

And every year, someone will look up from opening presents, glance toward the mirror in the family room and say, "Do you remember the year we set the table on fire.?" Then we all laugh at how everyone reacted. Rachel, who had sounded the alarm, stood mesmerized by the fire; I frantically filled a pitcher with water; Christy, Brad, and Bob watched from the kitchen door as Rob put the fire out.

And I remember the charred tablecloth that I tossed in the garbage and pray for a very lost woman who again has two teenage children.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Now and Then

Every so often I am reminded how much better I feel and how much better I function now than I did last summer. At Makudu's Island in Phoenix, (see July 17 post) I climbed up in the tree with the girls and slid down one slide. It was almost my undoing. I scraped my elbow and my knee, I got a crick in my neck and frightened myself when I thought I was stuck up in that tree and could not climb down. I could just imagine a rescue team arriving trying to get one very large woman who was old enough to know better, from a tree gym designed for CHILDREN!

Tonight, M has a party at Pump It Up. I slid down a larger slide more than once, and went in the big blow up basketball court and jumped around for awhile. I did land on my hindermost part a time or two, but nothing was injured and I had great fun. My body is more limber, my balance is much improved and my strength is so much greater in just over four months!

Glory Be to God! Jehovah Rapha!

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