Category Archives: Community

On Christmas Eve 2016, Our Live Nativity

May God’s light shine brightly in the darkness of the world this Christmas Eve. 

May you enjoy the company of angels, good shepherds, and friendly beasts alike.  You might find these at a local live nativity.  Or elsewhere, perhaps where you least expect them. 

Infant Holy, infant lowly, for his bed a cattle stall;

Oxen lowing, little knowing, Christ the babe is Lord of all.

Swift are winging angels singing, noels ringing, tidings bringing,

Christ the babe is Lord of all. 

–Infant Holy, Infant Lowly

Polish carol, trans. and arranged  by Edith Reed, 1926

Kiko vouches for the friendliness of this little beast. 

Of course, no camels or kings attended the birth of the holy baby; they arrived much later to pay their respects.  But there’s nothing like a camel to stop traffic.  And to remind passers-by that this is no ordinary night. 

Jesus, our brother, strong and good,

was humbly born in a stable rude,

and the friendly beasts around him stood,

Jesus, our brother, strong and good. 

All the beasts, by some good spell,

in the stable dark were glad to tell

of the gifts they gave Emmanuel,

the gifts they gave Emmanuel. 

–The Friendly Beasts

12th Cent. French carol

For posts on previous live nativities on Christmas Eve, see here and here

Funhouse Mirror Election Season Careens toward the End

Today a bizarre election season lurches toward its much-anticipated close.  Seems like we’ve been cycling through a long series of unsavory thrill rides at a shoddily maintained, near-derelict amusement park.  We wonder how we got here.  Our mothers told us not to go.  We’re ashamed to tell our children where we are.  The rides are rickety and clearly dangerous.  Why was the park ever allowed to open?  Is anyone in charge?  Seems like we’ve been stuck here forever. 

Unsettling funhouse mirrors abound.  Everything is weirdly distorted. Hard to tell what’s real, what’s an illusion.     

Watch out!, I yell to a friend.  There’s one of those evil clowns right behind you! He’s got a knife!   

That’s no clown, silly!, he says.  It’s Santa.  He looks so jolly, and he has great gifts for us! 

I feel sick.  I’ve lost any sense of reality.   I may be going blind.  I don’t know what to believe, or whom to trust.  How do we get out? 

Finally, the exit is in sightI see daylight and blue sky. 

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It’s a beautiful day.  Go vote.  Maybe we can leave the decaying funhouse behind, at least for a while. 

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A Look Back on Five Years of Wild Trumpet Vine

 

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Five years have passed since I began writing Wild Trumpet Vine.  In the space of that half decade, there have been many changes, naturally.  We passed some major milestones, we faced some challenges, and of course we grew older.  Looking back on the last five years, it gives me comfort to see that our family coped.  Maybe we even grew a little wiser.  I hope so.  We’ll need wisdom.  More daunting challenges lie ahead. 

In the fall of 2011, our daughter was starting middle school.  Seven years of elementary school were behind her, and soon she would be a teenager.  Since then, she made the leap into high school.  She became a licensed driver.  Now, our daughter is a senior, and on the verge of an even bigger leap.   We’ve done our family college visits.  The ongoing process is in her hands now.  Our daughter’s future stretches before her. 

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As for H and me, we’re all too conscious of seeming more elderly with every successive stage in our daughter’s life.  We could consider ourselves young when she was small and looked like a child.  Now that she will soon be out of high school, now that she looks like a young woman, our own youth, we realize, is largely an illusion. 

But we needn’t act old.  About a year ago, H began playing ice hockey once or twice a week, something he’s been wanting to do since he captained a rag-tag grad school intramural team at Princeton.  When windsurfing was his only hobby, his free time was spent mostly feeling sad because there was no wind.  Few opportunities for windsurfing arise in northern Virginia; it’s a sport that requires long stretches of time in an appropriately windy locale, such as Cape Cod or Aruba.  Hockey rinks are more conveniently located.  He’s a happier guy these days. 

And I’m happier, too.   I see good friends on a more regular basis now, and that can’t help but brighten the days.  Five years ago, Kiko and I usually began our early morning walks alone.  We typically chatted with many acquaintances along the way; sometimes we met neighbors and walked a while together.   About two years ago we began walking most weekdays with another neighbor and her dog.  Before long, another friend had joined us with her dog.  We were having fun, and evidently it showed.  A third friend soon joined in.  Now there are at least five of us plus our dogs.  Because we often run into other neighbors, the dog parade may swell to eight or so.  It’s become our morning social hour, one we all hate to miss. 

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Five years ago, Kiko was four, probably in his prime.  Although no doubt it was already far too late, our family continued to argue about training approaches.  Overcoming his headstrong nature was still put forth as a real possibility by my husband and daughter.  His stubbornness was an ongoing source of family friction. (See An Evening of Discontent and The Joys and Travails of Walking our Strange Little Dog).   

In the language of dog food commercials, Kiko is now a senior dog.  He’s as determined as always in his absolute, driving need to go this way or that.  He has no idea that he’s by far the smallest member of our dog walking pack (which includes a Rhodesian Ridgeback, a Doberman, a Labradoodle and a Golden Doodle).   But Kiko is the unquestioned leader; he chooses the path according to the smells that beckon most keenly.  Yielding to his iron will is more pleasant that battling it.  He’s still fast, although his bursts of speed are shorter-lived. He continues to enjoy wowing the lady dogs with his fleetness of foot and incredible turning radius.  But now he’s very likely to plop down immediately afterwards, preferably for a lengthy rest, in the middle of the street, if possible.  He’s trim and svelte.  His appearance has changed very little.  Except for one detail:  on top of his head, above the center patch of dark sesame coloring, he has a blurred triangle of lighter fur, as though someone had smudged him with bleach. 

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Five years ago, my parents were still frequently driving back and forth from Atlanta to our home in Virginia.  They were here watching D and her friends head out trick-or-treating, and to open gifts with us on Christmas morning, to celebrate Easter.  In attitude, demeanor and appearance, they seemed far younger than their actual age. 

Time started to catch up with my father about two years ago.  He had two major surgeries in as many years.  He’d always been fit and active.  He woke up feeling good; he rarely had an ache or pain.  But his last surgery left him weakened, almost frail.  He was becoming more and more sedentary.  When he stood up, he was dangerously wobbly.  And it was becoming clear that he was suffering from some form of dementia.  We tried to see it as no big deal.  It was his short-term memory that was primarily affected.  Did it really matter that he complimented me on my sweater every five minutes?  Or offered to get me a glass of orange juice even more repeatedly than usual?  The disease compounded Daddy’s graciousness.  He’d always made kind, sweet comments.  We simply heard the same ones more often.  But in recent months, the changes were increasingly profound.  During one visit he remarked that he couldn’t remember my birthday.  Another time he asked if I had any sisters.  And was I dating anyone interesting?  I told H it was time he got to Atlanta, before Daddy started actively matchmaking.  He had never been an overly protective father; he’d always wanted me to go out and have fun.  Throughout it all, he kept his sense of humor.  

For most of his life, my father had taken care of my mother, and the shift was very difficult for her.  He had done the driving, the grocery shopping, the bill paying, the handling of most paperwork, all the car stuff.  He had been there with his reassuring presence.  Suddenly Daddy depended on Mama to take care of him.  But he forgot that he needed her help, and that made it even more difficult.  It continually slipped his mind that there were many things he could no longer do.  Understandably, he didn’t want to remember.  He’d been used to doing so much.  Mama worried that he’d go outside without her knowing, that he’d fall on the steps or the steep front bank.  When she told him he couldn’t go outside on his own, he pleaded earnestly and poignantly, like a little boy: Why? Why can’t I go outside?  The thought of that exchange still brings tears to her eyes.  During our final visit in July, H, D and I were doing yard work.  Daddy appeared, as if from nowhere; he could still move surprisingly fast when no one was looking.  He was poised to climb the ladder, an old, rickety thing propped against the house.  We got to him just in time. 

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It took Mama a while to adjust to shouldering the burden of being in charge.  I think she was only just coming to terms with it when Daddy died.  My parents would have been married sixty-one years this month.  For her, his absence is a deep and yawning void.   

So, what will the next five years bring?  I don’t like to speculate on the future.  Even when I was young, I hated that question: Where do you see yourself in five years?  In ten?  But looking back on the last five gives me strength to know that we’ll continue to deal with life’s changes as they come.  Like the wild trumpet vine inching along the fencerows, we’ll persevere, through grief, through joy.  My hope is that we will find the assurance that my father experienced.  We’ll see his smile and hear him say: Hey, no need to worry.  It’s all going to be OK. 

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Final First Day of School

It’s here.  My daughter’s last-ever first day of school.  That thirteenth, and final first day.  Her senior year has begun.  She looks the part.  She appears confident, fit, athletic, in control.  A beautiful young woman. 

It was twelve years ago that my husband and I worried over our little girl (and she was so little) as she boarded the bus (and the bus was so big) for Kindergarten.  Thank goodness our area didn’t have all-day Kindergarten then.  I wouldn’t have been ready.  (See Moving up to Middle School, October 18, 2011.)  Eleven more first days followed, and eleven more years.  We checked off the major  first-year milestones:  elementary school, middle school, high school.  But I don’t remember growing older. 

My husband has been whistling “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof even more frequently than usual these days.  I understand, and those unsettling lyrics rattle around in my head: 

Sunrise sunset, sunrise, sunset!
Swiftly fly the years,
One season following another,
Laden with happiness and tears…

No school bus for our daughter, not since sophomore year.  This tall young woman got in the car, waved happily, and drove away. 

Is this the little girl I carried?

Wasn’t it yesterday when she was small? 

Wonder where she’ll be this time next year? 

The Political Survey for Unwelcome Callers

Phone ringing incessantly?  Telemarketers driving you crazy?  No worries!  Put an end to those meddlesome calls with this handy dandy survey. Before the caller gets that first word in, begin with this quick preface:

I wholeheartedly believe in the worth of your product/cause.  I am eager to buy/donate.  But first I must request a few moments of your time to answer some important questions concerning the upcoming presidential election.  Your responses may determine the future of our country, which hangs in the balance.  Here goes:

  • Bernie Sanders often compares himself to which of these figures:

a.  The Lorax  

b.  King Nebuchadnezzar

c. Larry David 

d. Stalin

 

  • True or False:  Donald Trump’s orange skin justifies his referring to himself as a “Person of Color.”

 

  • Continuing with the subject of Trump’s orange skin, who is his Brother from Another Mother? 

a. Jerry Gourd from Veggie Tales

b. Oompa Loompa #2 

c. John Boehner 

 

  • Which of these is a favorite saying of Ted Cruz:

a. They will know we are Christians by our love.

b.  They will know we are Christians by our massive assault weapons.

c. They will know we are Christians when we bomb those heathens straight to hell.  Peace be with you.    

 

  • John Kasich is an ardent advocate of:

a. Women remaining in their kitchens at all times.

b. Women leaving their kitchens only to support his campaign.

c.  Women leaving their kitchens only for Planned Parenthood-related activities.

d. Women leaving their kitchens only to give birth.

 

  •  If Hilary Clinton is elected President, her first executive order will:

a. Declare that henceforth Bill will be referred to as First Lady.   

b. Declare federally funded abortions for all first-time mothers.

c.  Declare mandatory abortions for all third-time mothers.

d. Demolish all houses of worship except United Methodist Churches.

 

  • Which of the following is true of Ben Carson?

a. If elected President, he will perform lobotomies on illegal immigrants in the Oval Office on Tuesdays & Thursdays.

b. On Halloween he will trick-or-treat in his Allen West costume.

c. Plans to abolish the prison system, because prisons turn everyone gay.

 

  • In Chris Christie’s fondest dream, he’s President and he has the power to:  

a. Permanently shut down all access to and from Fort Lee, NJ.

b. Force Bruce Springsteen to be his BFF.

c. Declare “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones our new national anthem.

d.  Carpet-bomb Fort Lee.

 

  •  Which is true of Jeb Bush?

a. Oh how deeply he regrets that exclamation point! 

b.  His amazement at the fickleness of fate will never cease:  He was supposed to be the successful one, not George W! 

c.  He has the best hair of any of the candidates.

d.  All of the above. 

 

  • Which is true of Marco Rubio?

a. He is the smiling, sunny Ted Cruz.

b.  He is hailed by Rush Limbaugh as a “legitimate, full-throated conservative.”

c.  He urges you to support Marcomentum by purchasing many fine Under Armour products from his New American Store. 

d.  He looks forward to extending the Overseas Railway from Key West to Cuba. 

 

Thank you for your time, and have a super-great day!  

 

Turning the Tables on Calls Unknown & Unavailable

Our home phone was out of order for nearly a week recently.  I missed the landline only for daily talks with my mother in Atlanta.  What a golden silence ensued, with the absence of calls from Unknown and Unavailable.  A mute phone, much like a sleeping child, can be such a pleasure.  I could expect no appeals for questionable charities, no reminders to schedule unneccesary service for this or that appliance, no giddy voices informing me of a life-changing message from my carpet cleaning company or that I’d won a Caribbean  cruise.  No hale and hearty howdy-dos, no manglings of my first name.  No calls requesting “The Lady of the House.”  She’s not here, Sir, but I can put you on with the Lady of the Lake. 

All too soon, and all too often, the phone was ringing again, the same unwelcome numbers popping up.  What to do?  Try to ignore the ringing, let the machine pick up.  Hear our greeting, hear the caller click off, followed by a loud dial tone.  No message, of course.  Or quickly answer the phone and just as quickly hang up.  Or pick up the receiver, say nothing, put it down, walk away.  None of these approaches offers much satisfaction, and each time, the call is a distraction.  Annoyance intensifies.   

It got me reminiscing.  During my college days at UGA, a common practice to avoid studying was the group prank phone call.  Hanging around the dorm on a Tuesday night, we’d look through the Freshman register, pick out a cute unknown guy, call him up and make outlandish conversation.  Typically the boy on the other end was happily willing to play the game, intrigued by possible evidence of female interest.  This was, of course, back in the day of the campus phone system, with no caller ID.  Another wholesome pastime made obsolete by cell phones.  We were often on the receiving end of such calls, and we were more than ready.  My friends and I were creative.  We were well-versed in winging it.  We were experts in nonsensical, playfully belligerent banter. 

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In my Rutherford Hall dorm room, with resident partners in crime.  The black wall-mounted rotary phone at the left was a source of much amusement.   

Maybe it’s time to turn the tables on unwanted callers.  It wouldn’t be as much fun as in the old days.  But nothing now is as much fun as it was back then. 

What to do?  Telemarketers make unwelcome demands on our time.  Why not make unwelcome demands on their time? 

Telemarketers’ questions are unfailingly annoying.  Why not annoy them right back?  Perhaps with a survey.  Surveys are ubiquitous, and almost always bothersome.  Express interest in a product online, and a survey pops up.  Buy an item, and the surveys never cease.  Schedule a service call for your disabled washer, and you’ll soon be pestered by recordings inquiring about your degree of satisfaction in scheduling the appointment.  If you’re lucky enough to get the appliance fixed, you’ll be endlessly harassed to rate the technician’s promptness, politeness and level of expertise.  After our phone service was restored, I received multiple entreaties on both landline and cell phone: Tell us how we did! How can we serve you better?  By never calling again, that’s how.   If you were doing really well, I wouldn’t have needed to call in the first place.   

Another ongoing annoyance is the constant volley of ludicrous comments and claims in this Presidential primary season.  What could be more annoying to callers than my asking them to participate in a brief political survey?  It’s doubtful they’d listen.  They’d hang up on me.  Imagine that! 

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  Another photo from the old days. My roommate Pam and I at a Rutherford-Myers red, white and blue party, probably about to respond critically to a remark made by track-suited fellow student. 

Back then, we were always honing the craft of repartee. 

Next up:   The Survey

Before the Blizzard, A Treacherous Drive

In my last post I wrote about what was, for my family, quite a lovely blizzard.  But a sudden snow two days before the storm had less than lovely effects. 

All focus was on the massive, looming storm.  Forecasters noted, as an afterthought, the possibility of snow showers, perhaps a “dusting,” on Wednesday evening before the blizzard.  It was presented as insignificant, a non-event.  There seemed to be no reason to reschedule the planned Church Council meeting.  But by 6:30 that frigid evening, snow was falling in fat flakes and accumulating quickly.  My daughter observed, with some concern, that cars negotiating the sharp turn in front of our house were creeping along.  When traffic slows down here in Northern Virginia, we take notice.     

But I wasn’t going to overreact.  I was no longer a novice at snow driving.  I still tend to avoid it if possible, but I’ve had some practice and years of good advice from my Rochester-bred husband.  When I left for the meeting, I was surprised to find myself behind a line of cars moving at a snail’s pace.  Surely they were being overly cautious, I thought.  But before long, even at that slow crawl, I felt my car beginning to slide.  It was evident that the roads hadn’t been pretreated; there was not a trace of salt or sand.  The trip was just short of a nail biter.  All through the meeting I kept an anxious eye on the falling snow.  How much worse could the roads get?  It probably wouldn’t be that bad, I kept telling myself.

Just before 9, I texted my family from the slippery snow-covered church parking lot.  I would start for home, but I could tell it was going to be no easy ride.  It was only three miles, but over old country roads that were notoriously narrow, steep and twisting.  H and D both responded immediately.  From H: he could come get me if I’d rather not attempt the drive.  The roads were slick; they were bad on his drive home at 7.  From D: the street in front of our house was a sheet of ice covered by powdery snow.  Oh my.  I’d start out anyway, and see how far I got.  I was glad I’d worn my snow boots, dressed warmly and put a blanket in the car. 

Usually, I find that the worry over an anticipated event is far worse than the actual event.  In this case, the real thing was at least ten times as bad.  That drive home is best described as absolutely treacherous.  It was a combination of gridlock and out-of-control thrill ride.  Traffic inched along hesitantly, stopped periodically, then inched along again.  Maintaining momentum uphill was tricky.  It was difficult to adhere to one of H’s most frequently repeated snow tips: increase your speed as you approach a hill.  If you take it too slowly, you’ll get stuck!  Not sliding sideways downhill was nearly impossible, no matter how slow the speed.  Several times I considered leaving my car on a side street and starting to walk. 

At one narrow turn in the road, we were stopped for such a long time that I got out and picked my way along the side to see what was going on.  The car ahead of me was poised at the top of a steep, twisting hill.  The driver said she was waiting for traffic to clear, since her car handled badly in snow.  Two vehicles had been lodged at odd angles farther down the hill and were just getting disentangled.  Once back in my car, I watched as the driver ahead began her descent.  She immediately skidded sideways, but was able to maneuver back on the right track without too much difficulty.  Suddenly, she was gone.  She’d made it down the hill and up the next.  It was my turn.  My antilock brakes, fortunately, were in good shape.  Somehow I managed to avoid drifting into a ditch or a stranded car, of which there were many.  Thankfully, the car behind me gave me plenty of time to take the hill on my own.   

When I pulled into the driveway, my heart racing, H was outside waiting.  He’d been half-expecting my call for help. 

I was among the lucky ones.  My drive, though frightening, didn’t take very long, and I arrived safely, my car intact.  Many drivers in the area were stranded for hours.  The beltway was an ice-bound parking lot.  Hundreds of traffic accidents were reported.  City and county governments made profuse apologies.  They repeatedly promised far better road prep for the coming storm.  

Lessons were learned, it would seem.  Well before the first blizzard flake fell, roads were treated, and plows were at the ready.  Once the snow began in earnest, the roads were relatively quiet.  Most drivers heeded the message of Wednesday night and left work in plenty of time, or never left home that morning.  I’ve learned a lesson:  If snowflakes are falling on untreated local roads, I won’t be at the meeting.  Let’s just cancel that meeting. 

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This was the snow that caused all the problems. 

It doesn’t look menacing, does it? 

Assessing the Storm

An unaccustomed sight appeared throughout Northern Virginia today:  school buses.   Due to the blizzard and what should have been an inconsequential “dusting” that preceded it, schools were closed for seven days.  During the final two weeks of January, with the snow, the MLK holiday and a teacher workday, school was in session for one day only.  During times such as this, I’m especially thankful that I like my daughter.  And while it makes me sound cold and unloving, I’m glad she’s not younger.  How pleasant it is that my constant accompaniment for her every snow venture is no longer required.   

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Our family’s winter storm experience was, all in all, quite enjoyable.  As blizzards go, it was a good one, at least for us.  I know there were others who weren’t nearly so lucky.  It was forecasted accurately and well in advance, allowing plenty of prep time.  The snow began right on schedule, at 1 PM on a Friday.  I was back home after a second shopping trip for those “just in case” provisions.  School had been canceled, allowing my daughter plenty of time to meet friends for an early lunch.  She was anticipating not seeing non-neighborhood buddies for a while.  Even my husband arrived home from the office well before the snow started to accumulate. 

The snow fell according to plan, persistently and without a break, until the following evening.  This wasn’t a showy storm.  The flakes were small but steady.  Saturday brought some wind, but no howling gales.  And most important:  our area never lost power.  We had heat, light, hot water and all those interior comforts that are especially cherished when the weather outside is icy. 

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My husband was ready with the snow blower he’d bought just after the Blizzard of 2010.  He was told he’d probably never need something that big down here in Virginia.  He wanted it anyway.  Growing up in Rochester, he dreamed of owning a powerful, sleek snow blower the way some kids dream of owning a Maserati. 

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In this case, it was a dream worth realizing.  The big blower came in very handy.

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H cleared our long driveway.  He opened up walkable paths between our house and those of our neighbors on each side.  (If you’ve ever tried body-plowing through twenty-eight inches of snow, you know it’s not easy.)   He then cleared our neighbors’ long driveways. 

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He opened up a path on a side street that was untouched by plows for several days.  He continued up and down that street until he’d cleared a lane wide enough for a car to pass through. This photo, taken by my daughter, shows how the sharply cut snow sections resemble two huge layers of angel food cake. 

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Here he is, returning from a full day of snow blowing, the afternoon sun’s rays falling on him like a benediction.  You could say that all this work could have been accomplished by shoveling.  That might be theoretically true, but it would have required far more helping hands and strong backs than were available.  Plus many, many additional hours.  His work was all the more valuable because it would be several more days before the streets into our neighborhood would be approached by snow plows. 

With every gathering storm, I’ve always been grateful that I can ride it out with a snow management and removal expert by my side.  This was certainly true during the Blizzard of 2016.  A good boy from Rochester is indeed a good thing. 

Once Again, Truly Big Snow

 

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The last snowflakes of the Blizzard of 2016 (aka Winter Storm Jonas) fell five days ago, on Saturday evening.  According to careful measurements by my husband and daughter, we got about twenty-eight inches.  Most of the snow remains very much with us, in far less attractive configurations than the graceful, pristine drifts in which it fell. 

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Last winter brought frequent snows to Northern Virginia, as my ten snow day posts of 2015 attest.  (See here and here.)  But we haven’t had a truly stupendous snow event  in five years.  In December 2009 and February 2010 we were treated to nearly back-to-back blizzards.   My daughter has been wishing for a similarly substantial storm ever since.  She likes her snow measured in feet.  She delights in tossing out the expected routines of daily life for all-consuming, all-day snow play and management.  To her credit, she pitches in with the digging out.  And the inconveniences that massive snows may bring: they’re simply part of the adventure.  What she recalls most distinctly about our loss of electricity during the 2010 storm was using the grill to melt butter for birthday cake icing. 

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Here she is, barely visible atop a snow mountain at the Reston Town Center after the February 2010 storm. 

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And, after the more recent storm, atop a snow pile in the parking lot of a local shopping center.  I guess she’ll always love to climb snow piles.   

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On a snow mound at our house during the Blizzard of 2010.

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And two days ago, with Kiko on a similar mound in the same place, after the latest storm.  Big Snow, happy kid.