Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Definitely Not A White Christmas

This noisy rooster lives next door to my daughter and her husband in the city where they live in the north of Mexico. The same neighbor also has a pig and a cow in the backyard. Life is so different here, yet the same in other ways.

Christmas lights blink on houses and on posts on the city streets. Mexicans seem to prefer lots of colour and flashing lights. Stockings hang in the window of a house in the neighbourhood. The holiday season extends to Epiphany and gifts are given on January 6th. There are no Boxing Day sales here.

We stayed outside in the sunshine much of the day trying to absorb as much heat as possible. The cement floor and walls hold the cold which is a good thing when it is 40C outside. But this morning it was 4C when I got up and I layered all my tops and wore a scarf in the house. Our daughter washed out a wool hat and it hung frozen on the line. By afternoon it was 20C outdoors and very pleasant for taking a walk.

Winter weather finally arrived in southern Ontario today and I am very happy my travel day was yesterday. Cool as it is right now, there will be no scraping or shoveling my way into work tomorrow. And that is fine with me.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

One of Santa's spies seen in a sycamore tree in Copley Square, Boston MA

I don't have any recollection of Santa before the age of seven or eight and by that time I was old enough to know he likely wasn't real. I do not remember putting out a stocking when we lived in South Africa. I remember Mom decorating a palm branch and spending the holiday at the beach with our family. An over-dressed Santa didn't seem to be a big part of a summer-time Christmas but when we returned to Canada, my brothers and I anticipated his arrival with great excitement. We listened to the radio to hear NORAD tracking his sleigh and woke up early to open our gifts.

Santa sign in Boston's North End

The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge MA has many Santa portraits available in prints, books and other gifts. We really enjoyed this stop on our trip last week. The artist captured the magic of a child's Christmas imagination in many paintings. Norman Rockwell published many poignant Christmas pictures which capture an adult's heart too.

Our children sent hand-written letters to Santa and I still have some of them in a scrapbook. Today's child has email and texting options as well and Santa has to keep up with the latest technology! After all there are three stages in life;- you believe in Santa, you don't believe in Santa and you are Santa.

gonna chk my list 2c 
if ur nawT or nice
bgfgs!!!!!! hhh


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

'Tis the year's midnight

The best thing about winter solstice is the fact that the daylight hours will start to lengthen, barely, but the march toward spring has begun. Fog fastened sky to the earth today and rain fell light then heavy. Nothing inspired outdoors until darkness fell and holiday lights shone against the black of night. Even people who are of usual good cheer felt weighted with the heaviness of this dull day.

Our patients had to let staff know their plans for Christmas by the beginning of this week. Some families will go out of their way to make sure a disabled loved one will have a few hours outside the hospital for a meal or gathering. In the end, very few will be going out and many of our elderly patients would have no one to spend Christmas with even if they were well.

A local church has a "Longest Night" service on winter solstice each year. It is geared for people who are going through challenging times and do not feel the merriment of the season because of bereavement, illness and loss. Each person in the congregation holds a lighted candle against the darkness that threatens to envelop them and there are songs, readings, and scriptures of hope, joy, peace and love. I listened to the service on the radio this evening and enjoyed the encouraging reflections that were shared.  

Today I heard about a program called Santa for Seniors for the first time. There are toy drives for needy children and food hampers for needy families but I have not come across a program that reaches into the lonely rooms of our elderly who are separated from family by distance, disinterest and death.

'Tis the year's midnight...* and for some it is a season of loneliness and personal darkness. I must take the time to shine the light of caring and friendship their way. Perhaps I will be the one needing that light in the future.

*A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day, Being the Shortest Day by John Donne

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sing a Song of Christmas

Grandma gave us money to buy a stereo component set the first Christmas we were married. The speakers were three feet high and the large amplifier supported a turntable and cassette deck. We enjoyed LP records for several years and accumulated many cassette tapes as well. I still have our vinyl collection but the cassettes were not as durable. The knobs broke off the old stereo and we gradually stopped using it when we started buying CD recordings. This year our CD player gave up the ghost just before Christmas so I bought $20.00 speakers for my iPad, loaded our CD collection onto iTunes and enjoyed hours of seasonal music in a new portable fashion.

There are many timeless Christmas compositions which most everyone recognizes at this time of year. I have heard one too many recordings of "O Holy Night" and will leave the room if I hear "Christmas Shoes" again. (The movie is worse than the song). But I love listening to Christmas music performed by British choirs, Sarah McLachlan, Michael Buble, Josh Groban, Barbra Streisand, The Carpenters, Anne Murray, and many other contemporary and classical artists. I enjoy playing anything that is not too difficult.

A highlight of our Boston trip was a visit to Symphony Hall to hear the Boston Pops holiday concert. We watch it each year on television but it was a pleasure to see the grand, acoustically perfect building. Part of the performance we saw was recorded for a new live CD to be released in 2013. I believe some of next year's concert will also be included. The program included readings of The Grinch, The Night Before Christmas, carols, classical selections as well as the traditional sing-a-long.

In the past 35 years we have gone from vinyl to cassettes to CDs to mp3 and other digital recordings. I wonder what we will listen to 30 years from now? Live performances may be the only thing that stay unchanged.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Advent Four

Gas Lantern, The Breakers Mansion, Rhode Island
And Mary said:

“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.

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.

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.

He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham
and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” 

Mary's Song- Luke 1:46-55

The Breakers Mansion
We visited The Breakers this week, the opulent summer home built by Cornelius Vanderbilt who enjoyed it for only a short time before he died of a stroke at the age of 55. The mansion was decorated extravagantly for the Christmas season in a late 19th century style with numerous decorated trees and enormous arrangements of fresh greens and flowers. I left the self-guided tour half way through and chose to walk outdoors in the fresh air around the grounds which led to the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. 

The Advent reading for today includes The Magnificat in the first chapter of Luke's gospel. Mary gives thanks because God has lifted up the humble, fed the poor and sent the rich away empty. God incarnate was coming to walk the streets as a servant bringing good news to the socially disadvantaged and sinners. He invited the rich too but asked them to give their wealth to the poor and follow him.

Trinity Church, Copley Square, Boston
A couple of homeless women sat on benches outside Trinity Church in Boston. Tourists focused cameras on them as their poverty contrasted sharply with the fine old and new buildings around the square. We were enjoying a tour of the city at the time and our guide described the recent disbanding of the Occupy Boston movement. She was sympathetic with the group who say they represent the 99% of the population who are not like the Vanderbilts and other wealthy Americans.

"There will always be poor people in the land..."

Later in the week we visited the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. I was young when he was assassinated and had never heard his speeches nor read his writings. He came from wealth and certainly had human weaknesses, but his social conscience and ideals were not typical of his place and time. I watched him speak eloquently on an old newsreel,

"The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie -- deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."

Fifty years later, we still live in a world full of persistent myths, half-truths and and plenty of opinions. The myths which envelop the Christmas season can hide the true reason God came to dwell among mankind. Jesus calls us to follow him in humility, to be generous servants, to love our neighbours and our enemies, to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile, to be peacemakers in our world

If Jesus was here in person today, he wouldn't be shopping at the mall or admiring the "Christmas" tree. You might find him sitting on a park bench in the square in the centre of the city, looking for the poor, the sick, the broken-hearted, the lonely as he offered them salvation, hope and peace for eternity.

Boston MA

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Vacation

This month is different than most Decembers. It is unusually warm and sunny unlike last year's prolonged winter storms and heavy snowfalls. My husband and I decided to take a week's vacation in New England as our gift to each other and we are now in Boston. (He is at a Boston Bruins' hockey game and I am at the hotel where I splurged and spent $12.95 for 24 hours of Internet) The weather is spectacular!

On the way here today we visited Stockbridge MA and the Norman Rockwell Museum. The altitude was 3000' and there was a light snow cover. There is no snow at all in Boston and the ocean was beautiful this afternoon under clear skies. And if the days were longer, one could believe it was October.

This is my first post from an iPad. The blogging app will take a while to get used to!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent Three

Rehearsing for tonight's program
Weeks of preparation come together tonight in the annual Christmas cantata at our church. Our music director put together a wonderful program including children, youth and adults in the performance. I have the small part of getting microphones to the actors and cueing them for their entry to the sanctuary which is much, much easier than memorizing lines and songs.

I have memories of many Christmas pageants;- repeating lines in acrostic poems, playing a piano duet with my brother, dressing up for a nativity scene, singing in a Christmas tree. And I remember well the years our children participated in school and church concerts.

Our little shepherd and her sister the sheep took part in the church program in the mid-1980s. What fun it was for little ones to dress up and then get a bag of treats. As the choir practiced this week, I held up a 25 year old photo of our girls and their classmates crawling up the same aisle after visiting the manger and baby Jesus.

A family favourite Christmas book and movie is The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. The story captures all the charm and unpredictability of a traditional Christmas play and communicates a valuable lesson as well.

Do you have a special Christmas concert memory?

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 

For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations. 

 Isaiah 61:10-11 
From today's Lectionary reading for the third Sunday of Advent

Saturday, December 10, 2011

It's Christmas Time in the City

Clock Tower December 1, 2011
My dad and mom used to bundle all five of us into the car every December for a drive around the city to look at Christmas lights. We would ooh and ahh at the extravagent displays on big houses in rich neighourhoods. The energy crisis of the early 1980's dimmed many Christmas lights as utility rates soared. But people gradually started decorating outdoors again and our city parks and downtown areas now have lovely light displays at this time of year. The clock tower from our old city hall was moved to the park when the building was demolished in the 1970's. (It is unfortunate that such a fine old building was replaced with a shopping concourse which is now half empty.)

Kitchener City Hall Circa 1964
This old picture from the 1960's was taken by the man who was responsible for putting up the lights at city hall each year. His daughter shared it with me last year. The clock tower sat in its original location on top of the building.

We still enjoy driving around town looking at lights or walking in our neighbourhood at night to see decorations. Some homes are decorated more tastefully than others, but to each his own at this festive time of year!

Who cares about the hydro bill!

Friday, December 09, 2011

Children at Christkindl Market

Our city hosts Christkindl Market every December. It opens with carol singing in the park followed by a candle light procession to city hall led by Mary and Joseph and their miniature donkeys. It is one of the nicest Christmas events I enjoy every year. The market has many traditional gifts and crafts, plenty of good food, ice skating, choirs, dancers, and a live nativity all weekend long.

(Here is a link to a short video of the Philharmonic Choir singing during the opening.)

Children wait to follow Mary and Joseph to City Hall

Klaus, the Organ Grinder shows a young boy how to play carols

Handmade toys

Lots of fun for young and old alike

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Peace on Earth

One of my patients made several origami crane mobiles and gave them to the staff (instead of chocolates) when she was discharged recently. An old Japanese legend states that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish such as long life or recovery from illness.

A young Japanese girl named Sadako became ill with leukemia as a result of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. She started making origami cranes to pass the time in hospital with a goal of making 1000, but she died with only 644 completed. Sadako's classmates made the remaining cranes, and all 1000 were buried with her. (Sadako was a real person, but there are several versions of this story). The following quote is from Wikipedia.
"In 1958, a statue of Sadako holding a golden crane was unveiled in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. At the foot of the statue is a plaque that reads:   
"This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace on Earth." 
There is also a statue of her in the Seattle Peace Park." 

Because of Sadako, folded cranes have also become a symbol of world peace. Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr is written for elementary aged children. I smiled at some of the one star reviews on Amazon.com. Here is one by a young student entitled "The best book that I've ever read".

 "I would not recommend this book. It is an amazingly sad book. I would never read this book again. It's so sad because there is a lot of dying. But I will tell you about this book..."

The absence of peace makes us all amazingly sad. Christmas brings hope that peace on earth will be a reality for all mankind.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbour

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Festive Foods

I usually get only one cold a year and it is invariably at Christmas time. My immunity is lowered by eating sweets, over-tiredness and stress. So I aim to make Christmas food this year that is festive yet healthy. Yes, we have done a little baking, but there is no freezer full of cookies and squares. I look forward to seasonal boxes of clementines and juicy, red pomegranates. And when I eat this salad for breakfast, I feel good all day long. 

And I am (almost) full when treats like this star cookie Christmas tree tempt me when I come home from work!

Monday, December 05, 2011

Saint Nicholas

St. Nicholas, Christkindl Market, Kitchener 2011
St. Nicholas visited Kitchener's Christkindl Market this past weekend. When I asked to take his picture, he quickly found his wife and they posed together. St. Nicholas day is December 6th and many children in Europe put their shoes outside the door in the days leading up to tonight in hopes of receiving a special treat. Naughty children could expect a lump of coal or a tree branch. (The St. Nicholas above has several branches in his hand.)

I looked at my footwear and decided there was nothing suitable for storing things I would later eat. Then I cleaned one Croc with a disinfectant wipe and checked to see what might fit in it. My size nine shoe held (with difficulty) one clementine, a small package of pistachios and one chocolate bar. No wonder St. Nicholas has such a small bag. The real St. Nicholas gained a reputation for gift-giving by putting coins in other people's shoes. Perhaps coins are a better idea than food or small toys.

I shared the picture of this card from Grandma's Christmas scrapbook a couple of years ago. In 1907 St. Nicholas was evolving into Santa Claus in North America with a more colourful costume and bigger presents. He certainly is very fit as he appears to be walking to deliver gifts rather than riding through the sky in a sleigh.

It is interesting to learn about Christmas traditions in other countries. St. Nicholas and related (caucasian) benevolent gift givers are not celebrated everywhere in the world. I like this quote from Dick Gregory, a black American comedian and social activist.

"I never believed in Santa Claus because I knew
no white dude would come into my neighborhood after dark."

To those who believe...

HaPpY Saint Nicholas Day!

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Advent Two

"Advent" means the coming or arrival, especially of something extremely important. People waited hundreds of years for the promised Messiah and when he arrived, few recognized him. We have a homemade felt Advent tree and when our children were young, we read through the Old Testament scriptures which told of Jesus' coming. The girls took turns putting a corresponding symbol on the tree each day. We still hang the banner every December. 
Advent is a time of anticipation, reflection and realization of what a world without Christ is like. Psalm 126 is one of today's Advent readings. May you experience the joy of salvation today.

 ...Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us!
      What joy!
  Restore our fortunes, Lord,
      as streams renew the desert.

  Those who plant in tears
      will harvest with shouts of joy.

  They weep as they go to plant their seed,
      but they sing as they return with the harvest.

A Prayer for the Second Sunday of Advent

Almighty and most merciful Father, we come to the season of Advent with the brokenness of the world in our eyes, 
the cries of our fellow human beings in our ears and our own sinfulness in our hearts. 

We come to Bethlehem, as those who need a Savior. We come to the light because the darkness has almost overwhelmed us, 
but the darkness can never overcome You. 

We come to Bethlehem as invited guests; to see, to wonder and to be changed by the Child Messiah who is Jesus. 
For his sake, and by his grace, forgive our sins. 

Give us hope and eternal life. Help us to move through a worldly holiday of excess
to a worshipful Advent and Christmas. 

For Jesus’ sake, and through Jesus we pray. Amen.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Let There Be Light

Last Saturday The Becka and I arrived at the community centre where we help out three times a month preparing food for the needy. We are getting to know our team as we work together under Ed's direction. Ed can come up with delicious menus with any variety of donated groceries. Sometimes we have boxes of produce to cut up or pizzas left over from local outlets. There is always fresh soup and stew to go with sandwiches. Last month a school donated 21 uncooked apple pies left over from a fundraiser and I learned to use a convection oven, baking 6 pies at a time.

It isn't hard to see from these pictures that something was missing this week. The power was out and we worked with one emergency light and several candles. The Becka and I made a couple of  bread puddings with 15 cups of milk, a dozen eggs, and other measured ingredients in each one. What a challenge to use a measuring cup with minimal light! The gas ovens and grill were in working order though. After a while the power came back on and our job became much easier.

I expect our lights and appliances to work and often take Canada's well maintained utilities for granted. Many in our world do not have reliable power, appliances, safe water or enough food.

Light is essential for life. As the northern hemisphere heads toward its longest night, we decorate houses and trees with lights to hold back the darkness. And we are reminded of Christ, the Light of the World who came to illuminate the path for those who live in darkness and have lost their way.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Best Gifts

His brain was injured in an accident at work and he spent weeks in intensive care. Now alert, he has big gaps in his memory. Impulsive and distractable as a three year old child, he struggles to regain his ability to eat and walk and make sense of the world around him. His wife has scarcely left his side since that day their lives changed three months ago.

Holiday advertisements flash on the television screen and she says to him,

“I haven’t even started my Christmas shopping.”

With a rare flash of insight he replies,

“We don’t need presents. We have each other.”

She looks at him with surprise, her eyes filled with tears.

The gift of life is priceless. The gift of love is eternal.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

John 10:10