Step by Step

Let’s face it. New Year’s resolutions are doomed to fail, because a resolution is basically just a wish. Instead of saying, “I resolve to lose weight this year,” you might as well say, “I wish I could lose weight this year.” Unless you’ve got a fairy godmother, wishing is unlikely to yield results.

So, the last couple of years, I have focused on setting achievable goals and then taking the next step to decide on what actions I need to take to achieve my goals. I am still learning, but I’m getting better. Today was my big goal-setting day. I have come up with a new unified system for managing my life (I hope) and I spent many hours working on it–writing down the goals, steps for reaching them, filling out next year’s calendar and many other subsidiary tasks. I still have several hours’ more work to do, but I made a really good start today.

Tomorrow I’ll be doing something completely different.

Literature and Music

Well, I seem to have become a rather lackadaisical blogger! My excuse is that I am fighting a cold (with lots and lots of zinc), and last night my energy ran out before I got around to blogging. We even skipped church on Sunday, as Walter and I were both sick.

The best thing about yesterday (Monday) was that I got to have lunch with a former student of mine. At Thanksgiving we had agreed to read a book together, just like the old Literary Society days, and then meet to discuss it over the Christmas break. The book we read was Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, which I read so long ago that I remembered almost nothing about it.

Yesterday, we met at a restaurant to talk about the book–and other things, of course! I think we both could see why it’s not one of Austen’s more popular books. The story really seems to lag at times. It was still an enjoyable read, of course.

I rushed home from lunch in order to enjoy the final episode of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell with Lina. I think this final installment diverged more from the book than the others, but it still ended up in basically the same place. I will miss getting to sit down and watch with Lina every day! This Christmas has been the Jonathan Strange Christmas for me!

After supper, Lucy and Janet and Jasper came with me to look at some Christmas lights. First we went to Marshall, where the courthouse square is always very nicely lit, only of course it turned out that all the attractions are closed on Monday, so we just drove around and then left. Next on the itinerary was a home north of our town that I’ve heard about for years but never found. The lady who owns it goes all out decorating every year and lets people drive around her circle drive for free.

As usual, Google directions failed to mention a crucial turn, but we did find the house in the end and it was kind of mind boggling.

12-28-15 Davis lights 2

12-28-15 Davis lights 1

I don’t think Janet had ever seen anything like that before. I’m glad we found it! (The photos don’t even come close to doing it justice. Most of the photos we took were very blurry.)

In the evening, Mercy got a call that her friend Summer was in labor. Mercy had agreed to take photos at the birth and was excited about getting to be there. Alas, the labor kind of fizzled out and Mercy was still there this morning and very tired. She eventually went to work with Walter. The baby has still not arrived!

Meanwhile, I had an autoharp lesson today. It was a lovely peaceful drive through very soggy countryside to Quitman, which is where my teacher lives. I hadn’t had much time to practice the specific assignments I’d been given, so we worked on picking some new things for me to work on. We also talked a lot. I love my teacher and am so glad to have her in my life. I got all choked up when I tried to tell her how much it means to me to be able to play the autoharp and make my own music.

By the time I got home, my cold was reasserting itself, and I was glad to get some rest. Plenty to do tomorrow!

Abide With Me

I had no idea this hymn originally had so many verses!

Abide With Me

Henry F. Lyte

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word;
But as Thou dwell’st with Thy disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.

Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings,
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea—
Come, Friend of sinners, and thus bide with me.

Thou on my head in early youth didst smile;
And, though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee,
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

 

Our Warm Texas Christmas

Now I’m kind of sorry I said I’d write a report today, because all I really want to do is curl up and read a book and then fall asleep.

Christmas Eve was very un-Christmas-Eve-like because we had already celebrated, so it was kind of a quiet day. We did manage to watch another episode of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell with Lina in the afternoon. It is so much more fun to share the experience!

I made a family favorite for supper–spiced pumpkin soup. Then, while others relaxed in the living room, I embarked upon my sewing marathon. The more tired I got, the longer everything took! Flynn has wanted a Sith outfit for years, and I decided the time had come to get it done. I thought of doing part of it now and the rest for his birthday, but then realized I really wanted to get it over with.

The outer black robe was done early in the evening, since I had already spent quite a bit of time on it. I started work on the tunic, but then had to switch and work on the innermost layer while Spencer was still up to act as a model because I needed to see it on someone before finalizing it. After finishing that, I went back to the tunic. I made a really stupid mistake because I was stupidly tired, and that set me back a little. I had to re-cut one of the pieces.

Finally, I finished the tunic, after wrestling with my conscience and taking a shortcut I had hoped to avoid. It was 4:00 a.m. At that point I went to bed for two hours, then got up at 6:00 to make the hot cross bun dough. I had a little bit of time to start work on the belt before everyone got up, but I didn’t get it finished.

I made the buns and then, while the casserole was in the oven, we gathered in the living room and opened our stockings.

12-25-15 Flynn with stocking

After that it was time for our big Christmas brunch–casserole, hot cross buns, and oranges.

Once fortified with food and tea, we returned to the living room to open the rest of the gifts. There were several happy surprises. I got a new stainless steel teakettle to replace the one that has boiled dry more than once. Spencer got a new soccer ball. Jasper got an airsoft revolver which he is very happy about. My husband, having been denied the chance to take a Chinese history class at the university, received two Chinese history courses on DVD.

I left it up to Lucy to set up the table with the usual array of snacks, chips, and dips. I spent most of the afternoon either working on the belt or dozing off. I was so tired! The girls pitched in to help me get the turkey dinner done and on the table. Some people had snacked so much they didn’t have much of an appetite for turkey!

This morning I slept in. I also took a long nap in the afternoon. It is so wonderful not to have that deadline looming anymore. Flynn and Spencer dressed in their sith/jedi regalia so we could take some photos before Flynn left at lunchtime.

12-26-15 Sith Flynn

12-26-15 Sith & Jedi 1

12-26-15 force choke

12-26-15 back to back

Before he left, though, it was time for a momentous occasion. Spencer had been saying for over a year that he would get his jedi braid cut off after the new Star Wars movie came out. I made him wait until after Christmas so I could get photos of him and Flynn together, but the time had come.

 12-26-15 Spencer with braid

He’s had that braid for over two years!

Lina called and several of us got to talk to her. Then, after lunch, Lucy and Janet and I watched another episode with her. Two more to go!

My main accomplishment of the evening has been chording a hymn for tomorrow. My main goal is to keep catching up on my sleep until I feel well-rested!

Since Walter and Mercy and Spencer had to work this afternoon after Flynn left, it really feels like Christmas is over. I have plenty of work to do before school starts again, but I am not going to worry about it before Monday!

Parting Shot:

 12-26-15 Goodbye Flynn

Saying goodbye to Flynn

Two Continents, One Shared Experience

A few months ago, I had an idea. Now, I am an “idea” person and I have dozens of ideas per day, most of which are rubbish. Some, however, are pretty good. This one, I thought, was actually brilliant.

Lina had sent us her Christmas list at my request, and one of the things on it was a mini-series that I really wanted to see also. (Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, in case you wondered.) Lina, Mary, Jordan, Flynn, Mercy and I had all read the book and loved it. So I got a copy of the series for Lina and one for me too, and I sent a note with Lina’s suggesting that we could watch it together on opposite sides of the ocean.

Fortunately, the package did get there in time! And this morning we texted each other and set up and started watching together. We texted comments back and forth as we watched. It was the next best thing to being in the same room! We had hoped to be on Facebook chat together, but her internet was not up to the task.

We watched an episode before lunch and two episodes after. By then it was late for Lina and we had to start getting ready for Mary and Jordan’s departure. But it was so much more enjoyable to be sharing the experience with Lina! Hopefully we can also watch the remaining episodes “together.” I am sure we will do something like this again.

Another thing that happened today was that I received an encouraging email from someone who was reading and enjoying my Sakeji memoir, and who is a former student also. Made my day!

We had an early supper so Mary and Jordan would not have to stop and eat on the road. They planned to drive to Mississippi this evening and then continue on to Florida tomorrow. It was sad to have to say goodbye to them. I love having my adult children visit and it never gets easier to see them go!

Then we still had our carol-sing-and-cookie-social at church. I had agreed to accompany the singing on my autoharp and it worked out pretty well. There was only one carol I didn’t have chords for and we sang that a Capella. Then we sat around and snacked and visited for quite a while. It was a nice break.

Now we’re back home and I’ve had a little time to unwind, but my sewing awaits and I must apply myself to it if I am to be done in time . . .

 

Christmas Adam Eve

We have some friends who refer to December 23 as “Christmas Adam,” because it comes before Christmas Eve. That would make yesterday Christmas Adam Eve. We did our Christmas Eve activities on Christmas Adam Eve because Mary and Jordan have to leave today.

The day started with a shopping trip of epic proportions. Walter and Jordan and I went to Aldi. Walter had some gift money to spend on German Christmas goodies, and I had lots of groceries to buy. We got two carts and ended up filling them both. So. Much. Food. I was so glad Jordan and Walter were there to help me bag it all and get it out to the car.

There were a few things Aldi didn’t have, so we stopped at Kroger on the way home and I got those last few things. Then I did some sewing and some gift wrapping and then it was time to prepare for our traditional fondue dinner. I was so tickled I had been able to find some gluten-free rolls that Mary and I could use for our fondue.

Our Christmas Eve traditions are among our most cherished. I’m not sure what Janet thought of it all! We “popped” our crackers, put on the paper crowns, and read the silly jokes. We enjoyed our cheese fondue by candlelight (2 candelabras plus the advent wreath). Then we migrated to the living room to have our “Mary and Jordan” Christmas, since they are leaving today. They opened all our gifts to them and we opened all their gifts to us. There was much delight all round.

Then it was time for our traditional carol sing. In the past, Lina accompanied us on piano and then Mary or Jordan. Last night Spencer had three carols he had learned to play on his bass guitar, so of course we had to sing those three! Jordan played along on piano as well. The last two I accompanied on the autoharp. We have turned into quite a musical family!

The final traditional activity is returning to the table to enjoy eggnog and an array of Christmas goodies. Walter bought SO MUCH stuff at Aldi that I didn’t even feel bad about not getting much baking done. Mary and I had a few gluten-free treats that we could enjoy also.

We finished the evening with the traditional viewing of Muppet Christmas Carol, during which I fell asleep.

It was wonderful evening, and one of the best things about it was that I did not have to get up before dawn this morning to make hot cross buns!

My Star Wars Story

I am going to indulge myself in some nostalgia here. Many of you who read this blog were born long after the original Star Wars trilogy came out, so I’m going to talk about that for a minute.

When Star Wars IV, A New Hope, came out in May of 1977, it wasn’t even on my radar. I was finishing up my senior year of high school in a very strict boarding school where I had virtually no exposure to popular culture. Eventually, at some point during summer school, I began hearing rumors of a sci-fi movie that some people loved so much they had watched it repeatedly.

I didn’t care, because as soon as summer school ended, I was on my way to Europe to spend several weeks with my family. During my brief stay in Michigan before heading back to the same strict school for my freshman year in university, everyone was talking about Star Wars. I felt like a clueless outsider because I hadn’t seen it. By then many fans had seen the movie in theaters 100 times!

Then, it was back to school, where even there people were now talking about Star Wars, having seen it during the summer. It began to be my ambition to see this movie, which was still showing in theaters through October and November.

At the end of that semester, I was picked up by my cousins David and Steve. They and seven of their friends were driving two cars down to Florida, which is where our family would be having a reunion. So we had 10 teenagers in two cars, and we had to stop and spend the night in Valdosta, Georgia on the way. Fortunately there were five girls and five boys, which made it easy at the motel, where there was a girls’ room and a boys’ room.

After we checked into the motel, we talked about going out for supper, and one of the guys said, “Hey, let’s go see Star Wars!  It’s still in theaters!” I was all in favor of this plan, though I didn’t say anything, and then I was glad I didn’t say anything, because my cousins very diplomatically maneuvered the conversation away from the idea of going to a movie, and I suddenly remembered that my mother’s side of the family did not go to movies at all and in fact considered it worldly and un-Christian to do so.

Once I was united with my family in Florida, my three brothers and I shared a common determination to see Star Wars. We begged my parents. The only problem was that if we went, it would have to be a secret, because we were with our whole extended non-movie-going family.

On Christmas Eve, we walked across the street from the compound where we were staying to a local mall. There was a theater in the mall, and it was showing Star Wars. We pressured my parents to let us go to the matinee showing. They agreed, with the understanding that we would hurry back to the compound after the movie, because there was a big Christmas Eve dinner and program that we were required to attend.

So, the four of us went into the theater and sat down. It is hard for me to convey to you the impact that movie had on us. It blew our minds. We spent the entire time with our mouths hanging open. Remember, we had grown up in a third-world country where we didn’t even have TV. There was nothing in our lives up to that point to prepare us for what we saw.  A space epic portraying a real, gritty life where stuff looked used and machines broke down and people were still greedy and conniving or noble and courageous.

When the movie ended, we were still overcome with shock and awe. It no doubt added to our enjoyment that we were being “naughty” by watching the movie. All we wanted to do was have a few hours to talk it over and discuss every detail. Instead, we had to hurry back across the street to go to the dinner. Not only that, we could not say one word about the only thing on our minds.

The movie had gone longer than expected, so we were late to the dinner. Everyone asked where we had been. We truthfully answered that we had been at the mall, though a couple of knowing looks from our kinfolk led me to believe they might have guessed what we were really doing. The effort of keeping our mouths shut about the movie was excruciating!

That was almost exactly 38 years ago. 38 years of being a Star Wars fan and seeing each successive movie in theaters when it came out, then usually calling my brother Matt to talk about it afterwards. I remember that he saw The Empire Strikes Back before me, and couldn’t resist calling me. “Do you want spoilers?” he asked, and I could tell he was dying to tell me, so I let him. “Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father!” Once again, my mind was blown. Those of you who have grown up always knowing this can’t imagine what an earth-shattering shock this was at the time. Like Luke, I wanted to yell back, “No! That’s not true! That’s impossible!”

By the time the prequels came out, I had children to take with me. I think Phantom Menace might have been the first movie Spencer saw in a theater (he was four). He became a lifelong Star Wars fan. Although I never loved the prequels in the way I loved the original trilogy, I went to see each one with high hopes.

So, this time around, my expectations were very low. I tried not to be swayed by all the hype. I made a point of avoiding spoilers, and I’m so glad I did. I’m not saying it’s the best movie I’ve ever seen, but I will say that I enjoyed it more than any Star Wars movie since The Return of the Jedi. I loved getting to see it with my kids. I love the fact that something I’ve enjoyed for 38 years is now something that all my kids enjoy too. I loved seeing some of the original actors on the screen again after so many years. It was like a long-anticipated visit with old friends. Will I go see it again? Very likely.

A Birthday and a Movie

Well, yesterday was quite a day! We had church in the morning and then after lunch all nine of us headed up to the theater to watch the new Star Wars movie. It seemed like a good time to do it because it was Janet’s birthday and she is a Star Wars fan. I will be writing something specifically about Star Wars in the next few days, but don’t worry–it won’t have spoilers. I’m SO GLAD that no one leaked any spoilers to me before we went!

After the movie, Mary and Jordan left to meet up with a friend and the rest of us chilled until supper time. It seems the custom in Sri Lanka (where Janet’s parents are originally from) is to treat your friends on your birthday, so Janet’s parents had sent her the funds to take us all out to dinner. We went to a Thai restaurant here in town, one I hadn’t been to before. The food was delicious and it was such a fun meal. Afterwards we drove through one of the more affluent neighborhoods where many of the houses are decorated with lavish light displays.

When we got home, we still had cake and ice cream waiting. It was a great evening.

Then I had to come home and do one of my least-favorite tasks in the world–cutting stuff out. I got Lucy to help me but I was still up till 2:00 a.m.

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Silent Night

Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light;
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

Silent night, holy night
Wondrous star, lend thy light;
With the angels let us sing,
Alleluia to our King;
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!