15 December 2009

Christmas Heart

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

Not to mention Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, and whatever else you might celebrate. I'm not picky -- I love 'em all!

My recording of Handel's Judas Maccabeus has gone missing this year, and I'm feeling a little off-kilter, musically speaking. The "alleluia" from that work has the "Hallelujah Chorus" from The Messiah completely whupped, as far as I can tell. Every time I hear it, the hair on my arms stands straight up. In fact, if memory doesn't fail me, I believe I had it played as part of our wedding music.

Nevertheless, I have all my favorite carols and dippy 1940s and '50s (and '60s) Christmas pop songs, and Dar Williams' "Christians and the Pagans," which makes me smile every time I listen to it.

I will never forget the first time I heard "I'll Be Home for Christmas." I was 10, and it was my mid-year piano recital. The recital was held in the church where the teacher's husband was assistant pastor, in the evening. All the candles were lit, and it was lovely.

My teacher's oldest student was a young woman who was taking voice lessons. I don't remember playing, but I remember this beautiful woman standing up and saying, "My husband just came home from Viet Nam. This is for him." And then she sang. Tears were streaming down her face and many others, but she didn't waver, didn't crack -- she sang her heart out. I have loved that song ever since. (Karen Carpenter helped "lock it in," I'll confess.)

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" -- in context -- is another heartbreaker. It's WWII-era. The lyrics have a not-quite-bitter edge: Through the years, we all will be together -- if the fates allow..." But it's also another wish for love and peace and family, in spite of the distance and the sadness.

For the record, I cannot stand "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Those other reindeer are sorry snots, and Rudolph himself is something of a wuss, running off and sniffling (if not sniveling...) until Santa comes to the rescue. I used to love "Little Drummer Boy" - the traditional version - until I worked retail for a few years. By the time I left Piece Goods Shop, I swore if I ever again had to listen to Burl Ives butcher that poor kid, I was gonna hurt someone.

(Incidentally, I generally love Burl Ives. It's just that one song... And also incidentally, did you know ol' Burl's middle name was "Ivanhoe"? Honest - would I kid you about a thing like that?)

My hands-down favorites are (1) the third verse of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," which I've never seen anywhere except the Episcopal hymnal, and which is a whole 'nother blog, and (2) a recording of "Little Drummer Boy" done in the '80s by a regionally semi-famous North Carolina band called Arrogance. It was a one-take deal, I'm sure. They kept trying to play it straight. In fact, every time one of them would crack up, another one would yell something to the effect of, "Get serious!" They finally made it through the first verse, and then the drummer --

The drummer broke away and ripped into this absolutely knock-your-socks-off, high-school-marching-band-drum-corps-eat-your-heart-out solo riff and just basically tore it up. And I figure that's the whole point.

The whole point of Christmas - the whole point of any birth, but especially Christmas - is to have as much fun as possible and then do your dead-level best to do your dead-level best. Don't look back, don't think about it, just do it. Throw your heart into it and play.

13 December 2009

Pedaling on

Nellie Belle, the blue Bianchi, has been in the shed for a couple of weeks now. By the time the earache got better, it was colder than cold (not to mention raining), and I haven't ridden in a bit. Maybe Sunday - it looks like it might be a little better out.

But in the meantime, I finally downloaded the pictures I took on the way home two weeks ago, as I came through downtown Louisville.

On Market Street, as you're coming out from the West End, you pass a couple of places of interest -- like the Glass Factory, where they used to have the world's greatest jazz club before it gave up the ghost, and where they still let you make your own glass ornaments, in addition to watching glassblowers as work -- and then you pass under the highway and you're downtown.

The incredible thing to me is that, looking back over my shoulder as I waited for the light, I could see roses still blooming in the post-Thanksgiving chill.

Of course, the big thing on Thanksgiving weekend is "Light Up Louisville," when they turn on all the Christmas lights in the courthouse square. This year the big deal was that they switched everything over to LED lights to save money, which is good. Beats the heck out of a few years ago, when they were bringing in the big tree via helicopter and they kind of dropped it...

And there were roses in the square, too.

03 December 2009


Today was a first. I got up at 6:15 and rode to work with Mr. Early Bird - in the dark - voluntarily. Not because I had to be at a meeting and needed to be sure I got there earlier than usual. Because I wanted to.

I've said many times, I don't do "early." I've been a night owl all my life, resisting sleep as long as I could, making up for it well into the morning. In fact, I haven't had to resist since about 1969 - my brain is just set on Night Life Standard Time, and hauling my butt out of bed before dawn is ugly, if not
downright traumatic.

But I hadn't been able to make it to yoga class for over a week, and there was a class scheduled for 7:30 a.m. at the fitness center. So Ed dropped me off at Java Brewing Co. at 7 a.m. on the button - I think the "open" sign had just come on - and I was upstairs, sitting on my mat, barefoot with almond-hazelnut latte in hand, at 7:22.

I've decided I need to do Thursday mornings more often. There were only two of us and the instructor, and apparently, that's how it usually is in the early morning class. It was different - there are usually 15 or 20 in the afternoon classes - and it was easier to get centered and go deep into the practice. We got 1:1 help lining up body parts: I found once I learned what it feels like to have my hips squared, it wasn't hard, but I hesitate to plant my feet as wide apart as I need to, and apparently, that's why I wobble a lot of the time.

This is part of my training for next year's long rides. In fact, at the moment, it's the only halfway-consistent part of my training... People keep scheduling me into unduckable meetings at noon, for God's sake, on Body Sculpting days. And - all apologies to y'all who ride in Flagstaff and Wasilla - I just have a real hard time getting out on the bike when it's black as night and 31 degrees with a wind chill of 22! So I try, but yoga is as close as I get to a sure thing most weeks.

Part of it is the core strength training. You don't know until you've done it how much work it takes to go from a Runner's Lunge to a Downward Facing Dog to a Plank to a Baby Cobra, and in between, stretches pulling knee to chest with the opposite hand reaching far out in front of you. I'm not talking about stretching muscles you didn't know you had. I'm talking about breaking a sweat.

For me, though, it's just as much about balance - something I've never had much of. I've always been flexible; before the arthritis set into my knee, I was pretty much "rubber-band girl," and I can still bend from the hips and put my palms flat on the floor. But I always kind of figured most people had one or the other - flexibility or balance - and my gift wasn't balance. I didn't learn to ride a bike until I was almost 10, and it took me five months from the time I got the bike to the time I learned to stay upright for the width of the back yard. Walking curbs or stepping stones was always a challenge. Even now, I sometimes turn too quickly and go down hard. (Which, BTW, is the reason for the severe arthritis in one knee but not the other. I always land on the left one ... and kneecaps can only tolerate so many full-body-weight whacks on blacktop or terrazzo before they start to fall apart.)

I learned a couple of things this morning, in addition to keeping my hips squared while holding Pigeon pose. The first is that, contrary to my gut feeling, I'm not more stable when I plant my feet a comfortable distance apart. When I pushed my limits - when, at Ashley-Brooke's insistence and even (gentle) physical prodding - I stretched the right another four inches forward and the left another two or three inches back, then I was able to rise and stretch from the Runner's Lunge to Warrior pose and not tip over like a little teapot.

The second thing I learned in conversation as we ended practice, and it grew in my consciousness the rest of the day. My classmate commented that she liked it better when there were only a couple of us, and I agreed. For some people, it may be more awkward; they're more conscious of what they can't do, more anxious about everyone looking at them. For us, it was easier to quiet our minds with not as many people in the room. For me, it was easier to turn off conscious thought and just feel - a very right-brained kind of practice.

I work with words all day, every day. Even at home, when I have time to sit down, I'm writing. (Okay, except when I'm crocheting, which is not nearly enough with Christmas coming!) When I get to yoga class, I need to turn off the words. When push comes to shove, I am a right-brained person, and even though I love writing, I get overwhelmed by all the words much of the time. My friend Georgianna laughs about that - when we get together, she talks and talks and I nod and nod - but that's part of why I love her. It gives me a chance to turn my words off for a bit. Georgie talks for both of us. ;-)

But turning those words off isn't easy. As much as they wear on me, I love them, and it's hard to let them go even for a little bit. And in a room full of people, the "collective consciousness" can be intense. An intuitive person can be bombarded with everyone's anxieties, everyone's self-consciousness - all that intense focus, even - and the right brain can get shouted down.

So even going to yoga class a couple times a week, I spend a lot of time off balance. Not just physically. And as the day went on, I became aware of what the psychic "off-balance" was doing to me.

Later today, I encountered a couple of situations where I was suddenly angry. The anger was justified in both cases, but it seemed out of proportion, at least from where I was sitting. (That would be the "I" who was sitting back watching "me" feel angry.) Why? Because words weren't helping me. In one case, my words were being requested, but then rejected - an editing job that was apparently just for show. I had to ask the client, "If they're going to blow off all my edits, why am I doing this?"

In the other situation, I was acutely aware of the disconnect between what was being reported in a meeting and what was actually going on - but I couldn't say anything. It wasn't the time or place for pronouncements or argument; it would have made things worse instead of better. I had to step back and let it go.

The words let me down, and I didn't know what to do. I haven't been working my intuition enough. I'm off-balance.

Here at the end of an old year, I'm intentionally evaluating and plotting the course for next year. There's something very important about this whole "balance" thing - I need to let the idea marinate for a bit. I think it may have a lot to do with the new year.

01 December 2009

PS: The new picture

Up there at the top. The socks with feet in them. Woolies.

Crocheted 'em myself. They're made of hand-dyed 100% wool purchased at last year's International Livestock Exposition at the Kentucky Fairgrounds, the same day I killed my previous cell phone by slamming it in the car door. (Yep. Seriously.)

Looked for the Wool Lady at this year's Expo, but she wasn't to be found. Sad face...

This is the first pair of socks I ever made, and I love them. They're great for cycling, and the colors are cheery and uplifting, especially in gray November. I quickly learned that, even as fast as socks go along, I get bored by the time I get to the end of the first one, so it helps to switch things around a bit for the second. I've made a few pairs now, and not one pair consists of two identical socks. Mostly, the differences are a little more subtle than this, though.


After a while, four-day weekends start to feel kind of like the fifth or sixth really good downhill run on a long bike ride: it finally dawns on you that what goes down must go back up, and you stop saying "woo-hoo!" and start focusing on gathering steam for what comes after. It's not a bad thing, just not the wild, unfettered jubilation it started out to be.

I mean, hills are good. They're where you feel the strength you've gained since the last ride. They're where you push and test yourself, where you build more strength still, where you feel it surging up through your calves and thighs and lungs even as you wonder whether you'll make it to the top. They're where you learn your limits, and where you learn to bull your way past those limits. There aren't many things as potent as cresting a hill that scared the crap out of you when you saw it coming, and realizing that you did it, and you never once had to get off and push the bike.

Which is a similar feeling to that which comes on the second day back at work, when you get tossed a project that's big, requires a total rewrite -- with imagination thrown in, because the business owner doesn't even like the format as it exists -- and has a two-day turnaround request attached. It takes two hours to beat it into a form that's workable. The Word file is uneditable because it's in a fragmented table format that refuses to be converted to text; the PDF has to be exported and sorted out first. By the end of the day, it's starting to make sense, but now you've got to figure out what to do with it.

I love what I do -- translating "corporate-speak" into real, everyday language so our customers can understand it. Much of it's legalese, and almost all of it's obscure and jargony, and I take pleasure in wrestling half-page paragraphs down to a few concise sentences that actually make sense.

But Wednesday, I had other things to do. I'd ridden the bike to work, and I was grateful to have the only director to show up in our department declare the holiday to officially start at 1 p.m. instead of 5. It gave me time to ride home by way of Spring Street (Clifton Community Garden at left), Frankfort Avenue (the Wine Cellar), Shelbyville Road (Breadworks), and Evergreen (Anchorage -- big hills and bigger money). By the time I arrived at the house, my panniers were loaded with two bottles of wine, two large loaves of bread, and of course, my shoes and dress clothes from the office. We stopped at Paul's Vegetable and Fruit Market on the way back to church.

Thursday, I shared the kitchen with my daughter. In summer, we share space in the garden -- in winter, it's the kitchen. We work around each other very well, and when called for, we collaborate effectively. Mostly, though, she has her areas of expertise and I have mine and we negotiate timetables. Briony bakes, I do sides, Ed smokes the turkey on the grill (a charcoal kettle grill that's about three feet tall, 18 inches in diameter, and has more versatility than you could ever imagine). Bri mixes, I wipe counters, Ed brings the turkey in after two hours to finish up in the oven. I chop, Bri rinses mixing bowls and implements to use again for the next project, and Ed goes to watch a football game.

Eventually, my daughter always saves the day, because eventually -- inevitably -- I sustain some kind of inadvertent injury and have to take a break. This year, it was the finger that found itself under the knife blade as said knife was slicing through the whole-grain cranberry loaf that went in the stuffing. Not sure how it happens, but I always manage to NOT bleed in the food. But bleed I did...

Bri's fiance, Rob, helped me with bandaids. We got four on the cut, and it immediately soaked through and started dripping blood onto the floor. I held a paper towel over the cut, tightly, but every time I let go, it started running down my hand again. We put on four more bandaids, tighter. It dripped. They were talking stitches, I was arguing that it would be ridiculous to go to the ER for a cut finger on Thanksgiving Day. The cut was a whole quarter of an inch long, on the side of my finger between the nail and the pad. You wouldn't think that much blood could come out of such a teensy slice.

Finally, Ed called the urgent care clinic at my request. I agreed I'd go there if they were open. They weren't, so Rob wrapped the finger in several layers of gauze and tape. It soaked through pretty quickly, but it didn't drip. I sat down for a few minutes to catch my breath and manufacture a few replacement red cells, Bri finished constructing the stuffing, and life went on.

The turkey was perfect. Early in the day, we'd had Lynne Rosetto Kasper on the radio with her Thanksgiving Day "Turkey Confidential," and she'd inspired me to try something I hadn't done before. I'd loosened the skin from the bird's chest and thighs and rubbed butter and seasonings densely under the skin -- parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. A Scarborough Faire turkey. More butter and seasonings in the chest cavity, two hours on the grill, two more in the oven, and I don't think we've ever had a more perfect turkey. It was juicy, tender, and actually even easy to carve, a task that's always been a challenge for us.

The key ingredients in the stuffing were Andouille sausage and the cranberry bread -- rich, dark, and spicy. Bri made spicy sweet potatoes, I made Brussels sprouts in cream. (I was the only one to eat any of them, but the rest went into a vegetable chowder last night, and it seems to be something of a hit, at least!) I'd found a recipe for cranberry-citrus chutney, but forgot to get the lemon and orange it called for. Fortunately, I still had half a box of clementines, three of which went in the chutney. It was probably sweeter than it was supposed to be, but still lovely. There was a savory pasta salad that had been marinating in the fridge for two days -- the perfect amount of time for something like that to gather flavor -- and apple pie and ice cream for dessert.

The best part of the meal came when I asked for an opinion on the stuffing (the recipe called for cornbread, and I'd just decided on impulse to substitute the cranberry bread). There was praise for the modification, and then Rob said, "It's all good. I mean, you remembered to put the sugar in the cranberries this year!" Bri started giggling and said, "Yeah, and the pies are actually cooked!" They were recalling Thanksgiving three or four years ago, when they'd only just begun dating, when I had indeed missed putting the sugar in the cranberry chutney, so it had "pucker power" that couldn't be beat. And Bri had pulled some diced pumpkin out of the freezer and made pies, only to discover the pumpkin had been put up raw -- when the pies came out of the oven, the pumpkin was still frozen in spots.

I think it was last Christmas -- or maybe it was Easter -- the kids were suggesting we pack the rolls up and send 'em to the Marines. The yeast hadn't done its job, the dough hadn't risen, and the rolls were basically the consistency of artillery shells. This holiday, the rolls didn't come until Friday morning -- I didn't start them early enough, and they didn't have time for their second rising -- and they weren't a whole lot better, although you could at least bite into them without risk of breaking a tooth. Eventually -- someday -- I will locate that good recipe I used to have, and we will have rolls again. Until then, I think I'll stick to my fallback position, which is a third stop on the way home, at Plehn's Bakery in St. Matthews. It's right on my way, just a couple miles east of the Wine Cellar, on the bus route to Middletown in case the bike and I decide to ride, and they have rolls that can't be beat!

Friday, the kids were off to work and Ed and I sat around and digested, for the most part. Saturday, I actually got out for a ride with the Louisville Bike Club, from Waterfront Park to Shawnee Park and back. I only rode as far as Shawnee Golf Course -- a couple miles shy of the round trip -- but between that and the ride home, I put in 30 miles altogether. Unfortunately, I left my fleece headband at home. The damp chill and the wind settled in my left ear, and it's been aching ever since.

But it was a wonderful weekend. I've felt rested and glad to be at work this week, and I'm thankful. As I said at church Wednesday night, when the mic came around to me, I'm thankful for music, for laughter, for my garden, and for people to share them with.

And, I might add now, for my bike, my kitchen, my family, and Lynne Rosetto Kasper. For Andouille and for cranberry bread. For brussels sprouts, heavy cream, and clementines. And for sweet potatoes, apple pie, and Breyer's ice cream.

For every good gift and every perfect gift, thanks be to God.