Christmas Memories and a Happy New Year, 2013

I looked at the Christmas tree lights as I turned them on this morning. I wondered why it did not seem the same three days after Christmas as the first time they were turned on before Christmas for the Christmas season. They shine with the same amount of light. The sparkle on the ornaments is beautiful. They light the room with the same glow each time they’re turned on. Hmmnnnnn!!! What is the difference? The physical dimensions of the situations remain the same. Must be me, then. Within my being, there must be a difference in the two situations–pre-Christmas, and post–Christmas.

The Christmas tree is a very visible piece of what has become the ritual of Christmas. The poinsettias, the Christmas cards, the various manger scenes, the Christmas Eve program, the gifts that grow beneath the tree, the cookie baking, shopping for the Christmas dinner, family telephone conversations, hanging the garlands, checking out travel plans for yourself or for those coming to see you, and on and on. And most of all the expectation of it all. Amidst the clutter of the Christmas balls and bells, the shopping malls, and the outdoor lights, is the nagging and tugging at your inner self to remember really what the expectation is about. The nagging voice in your psyche keeps tugging at your soul as you wrap the gifts. Remember, it whispers, what the season is. Remember, it shouts, the greatest gift–the reason for the season. Remember to keep Christ in Christmas. Remember the star so bright that lit up the night. Imagine the expectation on that night–the birth of the Baby Jesus. And how do you wrap that gift?

Now Christmas day is over. It was wonderful. My family was here. All four grandchildren were able to be here. We opened gifts; we cooked and ate wonderful meals together, and yes, we ate dessert when we shouldn’t have. We talked and talked and even played an old-fashioned board game together, an activity filled with joyous family laughter. It’s wonderful to see generational fun away from a piece of technology.

Soon I will plant the poinsettia outside and hope they will grow to be great blobs of red in the California sun Christmas’s to come years from now. The Christmas tree will be carefully dismantled and the precious ornaments put to rest for another year. The ornaments on the “animal tree,” will find  their resting place in the box labeled  Animal Ornaments. The Santa Claus stuff, the reindeer, the village scenes, the wreaths, and other Christmas decorations will be taken down or dismantled and carefully packed in their homes until next year when they will be assembled again.

But this year when I wrap the manger scenes and the Baby Jesus, I will remember that the greatest gift ever given to me at Christmas was the birth of that manger baby in Bethlehem so long ago. It is the priceless gift that abides in me and has been with me since my birth. It is the gift that never grows old, never tarnishes like my silver does, sparkles like crystal without he sun, and gives me perpetual hope for my journey and beyond. It nourishes me and energizes my soul. It helps me to seek the good in others and to hope that evil subsides. Most of all the Spirit helps me to live a grateful life.

It’s not New Year’s Day yet, but I know what my New Year’s resolution will  be: I will not pack the message of the Baby Jesus away until another Christmas. He is the reason for this season and will remain the reason for every season in my life. He will not be just the Spirit of Christmas; he will be the Spirit of every day. I will remember that the wrap that I place around the Baby as I pack the pieces of the creche can no more contain him than the wrap that bound him in the tomb. He is free and available to all.

A Happy New Year with blessings to all.

At a Time Like Sandy Hook

At a time like Sandy Hook, it is difficult to concentrate on love in the wake of such hateful, horrific, evil acts. In the aftermath of such unfathomable sadness, it is almost impossible to know joy even when the air is filled with the joy of our Savior’s birth and sounds of Christmas music. With events that are filled with turmoil, uncertainty, fear and worry, it is difficult to talk of peace and hope and even more difficult to feel the soothing arms of peace.

But for me, I do know that dawn always takes away the night skies. I know that faith is the seed of hope, joy, peace, and love. The teachers, parents, fellow students, and friends cannot touch these little, innocent, bodies of the beautiful children taken from us. But I do know that those angels will forever touch not only those who were physically close to them, but they will forever look down on all of us and touch us in ways that only angels can.

It is the evil that we must not allow to settle in our hearts and beings. We must not let it tarnish the glow and beauty of the lives we lost. We must remember what they brought to us while they were here. No evil, demonic person must be allowed to take that from us. The one event that scars our hearts forever must be allowed to heal. We must take the love and joy that they gave us and let it grow; we must grow that love and spread its seeds the way the wind carries the seeds of beautiful flowers. to the mountain meadows and the prairies.

I have not been to Sandy Hook; I have not personally seen the faces of the principal, the others, nor the children who were so brutally murdered there. But I cried when I heard the news of this horrendous act because over my sixty years in education, I have seen the faces of children and staff in many Sandy Hooks. Now as a School Board Member in my small district in California, I’m still seeing the faces of the smiling children and teachers who come to our schools each day. Over the years I have watched parents drop off their small, precious bundles at our schools. As a teacher at all levels, I have been there when the smiling faces arrive at one of the safest places there is–their school. We all strive to make it that. Yes, I feel the pain of this great loss to our country. We do not know what Bill Gates, Einstein, or George Washington might be gone.

But we also don’t know the Steve Jobs, Marie Curie, great artist or composer, future president who still remains in Sandy Hook or Bonsall, California, where I live. We also don’t know whether there is a potential killer among us. But we do know that we will have them all to teach and nurture in our schools. Sandy Hook tells us again that we cannot lock evil out with locks and gates and great safety systems. Evil works its terrible woe from the hearts and minds of the evil.

I just know that in each corner of the universe each of us occupies, we must try to replace hate with love, evil with good, sadness with joy, worry and fear with faith, and hopelessness with hope. We must model compassion, integrity, honesty, energy, excellence and humanity; we must expect those we teach and those we touch to respond in kind. We have a high and holy calling when we teach as parents, as teachers, as neighbors, friends or acquaintances.

There is magic in learning; the eyes and beings of the little ones who come to us teach us the way of their magical world. That magic has been snuffed out for the beautiful victims at Sandy Hook. We must not let it be snuffed out for others because we become or remain jaded, morose, hateful, revengeful, or disillusioned by the evil perpetrated at Sandy Hook. We must remember the magic looks, not the looks of terror that emanate from evil.

When I got the message that my son was in a car accident, I did not know what I would find when I reached the hospital. I can tell you about the feelings of fear, confusion, worry, and anger at the driver of the car ahead that had no lights on the trailer my son hit. I cannot pretend to say I know what you are feeling dear friends at Sandy Hook. My son is alive and I can touch him. I do not know what I would have felt if I knew he had not survived. And I can imagine less what I might have felt had it been at the hands of another human being in cold and calculated horror.

Monday morning our little ones in our schools will scurry into our classrooms. Parents will drop them off, give them a big hug and kiss, and tell them to have a great day. We must do everything in our power to make it a great and grateful day. We must evoke the magic of learning and provide the safest place socially, psychologically, and physically that we can. When we see evil in its smallest beginnings–hateful behavior, deceit, sadness in the face of joy, meanness, bullying, aloofness, hurtful comments, and any conversation that demeans, we must work to change the thinking and the behavior to its opposite. These are weeds that must not be allowed to take root because these weeds at maturity become the faces of evil.

We must replace hate with love; sadness with joy; fear and worry with the faith of the bird that sings before the dawn breaks. It is time to replace hopelessness with hope and peace.  We must make our learning places as magical as Disney made the Magic Kingdom. We are in the season of the birth of the greatest teacher ever known; we are just days away from the birth date of Christ. May the teachings of this the greatest of teachers, sustain us at this time. We know those teachings have endured, that they will comfort us, and help us to find peace. The angels who left us yesterday will help us get through tomorrow.      

Favors Granted Become Rights Expected

Is it kinder to give a person a fish, or teach them how to fish?

Is it more productive to do your children’s homework or help them with it?  Is it kind to extend unemployment insurance for months and months? Is it wise to promote food stamps in America, rather than have an all-out, good old-fashioned American campaign to give a hand to your neighbor who is in need. Neighbors know who has a need, who is working the system, and who is just plain dishonest about their situation.

When unemployment insurance, food stamps, medicaid, and all the other “benefits” become a way of life, when they are a hand-out rather than a hand-up, we have severely limited any person’s freedom of choice. Opportunities that exist are not sought or utilized because the culture has taken away that freedom. Opportunity without the freedom to choose is not opportunity. Cultural dictates against the choice make it a non-opportunity.

People become slaves to the culture as surely as any form of slavery we have always condemned. The result is control by the forces that promote the culture. Favors granted become rights expected.  The establishment of such a culture of depencency is an almost fool-proof, permanent form of slavery. People give up the opportunity to be free as more and more benefits are added until the “freebies” pay more than a great, soul-satisfying opportunity. Lack of freedom enslaves.

Creating this dependency cycle may appear to be “help,” but it does not “serve” the dignity and worth of the individual to be all that she/he was created to be. That requires freedom of choice if opportunities are to be pursued. Being free is a requisite for personal development and a creative and fulfilled life.

When folks settle for the gifts from a benefactor/government that is trying to buy their allegiance, they have given up their gift of freedom of choice. There always are strings attached to gifts in the name of social justice; the biggest and longest string is control by the benefactor who demands and expects allegiance.  Favors granted become rights expected.    

As the first cries emanate from the new-born child, the visions  of what that child can become are not created by the opportunities that might exist in that nation, wherever it may be, but rather by the culture of the surrounding environment in which the child is born.Opportunity may abound, but choice may not be available to the individual solely because the culture does not expect it or allow the choice to be made. Generations follow generations and walk in the same paths.  But I can assure you  that a child born into a family that has been on welfare for several generations, with no move in another direction, will live and breathe in the atmosphere of welfare. It becomes the map of life. And people become slaves to the system. The American Dream can’t breathe in this atmosphere of dependency. Opportunities become words on a piece of paper, not choices of the free, human spirit.

Favors granted become rights expected, and the recipient of the favors becomes a slave to the benefactor. Political benefactors know exactly what they are doing. They grant favors and collect votes. And the voters expect favors in return. It was not how we were founded, but it is rampant in our land of the free, the free who are becoming less and less free as favors are granted and rights are expected.

The Clothesline–A Memory

Lo and Behold! A wonderful sight to cause floods of memories appeared on my facebook this morning. It was a great picture of an old-fashioned clothesline, replete with clothes hanging as if they were happy with the breezes sent to dry them. Marilyn wanted to know if anyone had seen such a sight. You know you have entered into a kind of time capsule when you can say: Yes, I used clotheslines like that. Other answers attested to the presence of these relics with their ancestors. They knew there were such contraptions.

These lines were strung between two trees or between poles that were placed where the clothes could blow freely in the breeze to dry and not touch any building or other impediments. In the picture that Marilyn sent, the clothesline was complete with the tall pole fashioned for the middle of the line; this pole would be lifted to make certain that the clothes would not touch the ground as the line became heavier with the wet items. In town where space was more limited, lines were strung from a pole or tree away from the house with a pulley and line attached to the house. Clothes were hung on the line and the rope was pulled to let the clothes hang free. This was even done with the pulley close to a window.  Yes, I have used them both. They were my clothes dryers.

As a kid, I often wondered whether there was something magic about the breezes and wind factors on Monday. It was laundry day. Certainly there must have been some magic worked on that day. But over the years I learned the answer: No magic! Often the clothes never moved from the way you hung them on the line. They hung limp, longing for the breeze that never came. It wasn’t just the clothes that wanted the breeze. You wanted the clothes to shake and tumble with the  strong urging of the winds. You hoped they might even be lashed a bit until they gathered the scent of everything fresh in the air around them. They didn’t smell anything like the air fresheners that try to mimic the fragrance of nature.

Imagine climbing into bed at night with the lingering freshness of outdoors. That is a memory for me that I have tried to replicate even when I have had a clothes dryer in my laundry room. Until just a few years ago, I had a clothes reel, a series of clothes lines that formed a square around a post that was placed in a receptacle in the ground. I hung my sheets out for many years to capture the wonderful fragrance of the outdoors. I wanted to climb into bed at night with the freshness of nature about me. I must say, I put my towels in the dryer; they were softer than when hung outside.

But I want to share one of the nightmares of those wonderful outdoor clotheslines–at least if you lived in a cold climate in the winter. Funny thing. Mondays came around in the winter just the way they did in the summer. When the clothes were hung on the line in the winter when the days were really cold, they froze stiff rapidly. Sometimes it took fast work to get the clothespin on before the clothes froze. Putting them on the line, and even more so when you took them off the line, you felt like you were doing a dance with the frozen stiff garment. One result was certain from that experience; you really appreciated hanging out clothes in warm weather.

I don’t have a clothes reel anymore. The last time it was used, the grandchildren put a blanket over it to make a tent. But I guess nostalgia has flooded my senses and I’ll hang my sheets over one of my railings to dry to see if I can capture just one more  time the freshness that I remember. It’s December, but theCalifornia sun and breezes will avert a dance with frozen sheets.

Yes, Marilyn I have seen one of those old clotheslines. Your picture brought back memories of some good-old-days. But they were not so good that I’m giving up my clothes dryer.


The American Dream–A Little Girl in Iowa

            Yesterday when I was taking my grateful walk, the California sky was trying to make up its mind whether the sun, the gray patches, or the white clouds would dominate. It was spitting a little rain and the puddles here and there made me realize the rain clouds had won earlier in the morning. As the very small raindrops fell, I was suddenly taken back to my Iowa childhood days.

             It’s December and the precipitation is not wet; its the touch of the small flakes of snow that land with gentleness and silence that caress your face. You turn your face up to make certain that they’re real. But you know that those gentle flakes over a period of time, with a little help from Mother Nature, can produce the lovely powder, deep and ripe for your sleds. It was then that you found the longest hill you could safely use to try the new four-runner sled your uncle made for you last Christmas. You wonder how much snow there will be by morning when you have to go to school.

            The next morning means a walk down the lane from your house to the main road where you  and your sister will catch the school bus that will take you to New Albin, Iowa to school. This is your first “town school.” All the other schools before were the wonderful white, one-room school buildings like those that dotted the Iowa countryside. The bus arrives. And it’s not the yellow school bus that has become such an icon. It is a horse-drawn bus that is rectangular in shape, constructed with seats on both sides; this home-built bus then is fitted to a farm wagon. You climb the three steps at the back of the bus with your lunch bucket and the warm bag of salt your mother sent with you to help you keep warm. You hear the crunch of the horses hoofs as Mr. Hayes, the driver, does his “Giddyup,” and you soon hear the melodic crunch of the new snow under the turning wagon wheels.

            About half-way to my destination, my hands and feet were very cold and very uncomfortable. My solution to that problem was to jump out of the bus and run behind the bus to try to warm up a bit. It was quite a logistical problem. I had to keep up with the pace of the horses, and Iad to contemplate any stops or slow-downs. And I always had to keep within grabbing distance of the handle of the door of the bus. Mr. Hayes would not have been happy to have to stop and wait for me.

             I knew how fast I had to run from the sound of the horses feet pounding the snow. I could know the minutes we would need to get to the next stop. Clapping my hands in rhythm with the bells on the horses was a game. Running in the tracks of the wagon wheels in the fresh snow was a game. Counting the telephone poles was a game and trying to count the blue glass conductors on the top of the poles was a real challenge. Looking for the squirrels, possums, and any animal that I saw was a lesson in nature. Where did they live? How did they eat? Did they have a family? Would they come run with me? As we passed the cattle in the farmyard, the direction of their breath as he hit the cold, crisp, air gave me inklings about the wind and the temperature. I would have to ask my teacher about all this stuff.

            So many questions and often answers were present all around me.

            It was time to climb back aboard the bus as we came close to the school. I could put my wet mittens on the radiator inside my classroom to dry. The teacher might even let me put my very cold feet next to the radiator  until she was ready to start class. I was ready to soak in everything that was available for me. The books, the maps, the wonderful globe of the world, the pictures of the presidents, and the things the teacher would bring to share with us from her travels and reading  were all my mentors.         

            I was free to think, to read, to speak, to be, to do, to ask all the questions I wanted, to think as I chose, to participate, to watch, to join a group, to be by myself, to suggest, to disagree, to offer a different opinion, to change my mind, to choose my friends, to say a prayer, to pledge allegiance with pride, to ask more questions, to share my experiences, to listen, and to ask for help and offer to help.

            My American Dream was so alive in the hills and valleys of northeastern Iowa. I was free. I could live the freedoms that are my legacy from my Creator and guaranteed me from the great documents left me by the founders of my great nation. May I always remember those freedoms and help to secure them for my grandchildren and all who follow me.  k