Archive | December 2012

Christmas Spirit: I’ll Have Another

Merry Christmas!  Our favorite Christmas movie, “A Christmas Story”, is playing on a 24/7 marathon loop. We opened the presents and snuggled on the couch to watch the movie this morning.  And, now as a mother of twin boys each with Red Ryder BB guns, the phrase, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid” resonates more deeply.  And today as we ate Christmas lunch at Shoney’s—due to poor planning and no grocery shopping before we traveled out of town for Joel’s family reunion, and after Googling what restaurants were open on Christmas Day—, I laughed at the realities of our Christmas versus the idealized version in my head….fire roaring, no children fussing with each other, and all of us in matching pajamas drinking eggnog and opening gifts. Instead, sitting in Shoney’s with my parents, husband ,children, sister and her partner, all of us wedged into seats among the predominantly elderly buffet throng, Noah astutely observed that it was Seniors’ Day in Shoney’s.  (We saw Christmas Future, and it wasn’t pretty.)

Recently during the children’s portion of our worship service, called The Feeding of the Lambs, one of our church members, Jan, explained that while growing up she watched the Bing Crosby Christmas special and she longed to be part of that beautiful family, with perfect music being sung and played, and snowflakes falling gently outside the window.  Instead, in Jan’s house, her rambunctious cousins threw a cherry bomb into the fireplace which exploded soot all over the family, and their orange cat, Maynard, climbed the Christmas tree and toppled it over breaking the ornaments.  To top it off, the Christmas ham that her mother baked was too large for their modest refrigerator so they placed it in a cooler on the back porch, only to find the next morning that the dogs had eaten it.  Jan wondered when they would ever have a Bing Crosby Christmas. Some time later, she figured out that the Bing Crosby Christmas was fake….all fake! The music was pre-recorded, the kids weren’t Mr. Crosby’s, and the snowflakes were tiny pieces of paper being dropped from the ceiling of a studio set.  In the end, Christmas wasn’t about the illusion of everything being just so, it was about her family’s love and Christ’s birthday.

In our family growing up, we loved eggnog.  Or at least, my father, sister, and I did. Mom, not so much.   Weigel’s eggnog is and will always be the only brand for me, and we always looked forward to the holiday season so that we could run to the Weigel’s near our house to buy the half-gallon cartons.  Mmmmm.   A family tradition. But, my fond memory is also tempered by the shattered reality that I was once inadvertently an eighth-grade drunk.

My paternal grandparents, Fletcher and Hazel Sweet, took me to a housewarming party one Christmas season way out in the country somewhere to see an 1800’s era house that their friends bought and refurbished, and which was filled with antiques and era-appropriate holiday décor.  My tee-totaler grandparents left me on my own near the punchbowl brimming with eggnog.  Dainty cup after dainty cup I drank it.   Oh, so sweet and creamy, thick but just shy of clogging my throat, and oddly it had a teensy bit of a strange aftertaste….not quite medicinal, not quite bitter, but not purely eggnog either.  This certainly wasn’t the Weigel’s eggnog I was used to, but it was pretty good.  And, if a little was good, then a lot was better.  Bottoms up!

Except that my head began to hurt and my stomach fluttered.  I felt woozy.  Time and space swirled.  Granddaddy and Grandma did not know that I had single-handedly consumed enough to snocker an adult.  On the way home, I laid down in the back seat of their car all the way home.  They returned me to my parents, and I stumbled in and laid down on the couch in the family room, “drunk as a skunk” according to my Mother, where I promptly fell asleep in an eggnog induced stupor.

I’m pretty sure a Bing Crosby Christmas would not include a plastered thirteen year-old eggnog addict.  Our neighbors have invited us for dinner tonight (thank goodness, I can’t bear Shoney’s again), and are serving eggnog.  Straight eggnog, I hope.

Nudge, Nudge (A guest blog by my sister, Cyndi Sweet)

If you have played any games on Facebook, your iPad, iPhone, or any other technology that allows you to play games like Words with Friends or Dice with Buddies, you are probably aware of the “nudge” button that allows you to prompt friends to take their turn in the game. The nudge button can be a fun and simple way to remind your opponent it is their turn to play. And, really, who hasn’t been sitting in a doctor’s office waiting to be seen and killed a little time playing games on their phone? If you are all caught up on your games and it has been a day or so since your friends took their turn, the nudge button is a perfect way to communicate to someone, “Hey…I’m bored and want to play, take your turn!” On the flip side, the nudge button can be your worst nightmare. I tend to nudge someone only if a reasonable amount of time has passed. Generally, if it has been 48 hours or less, I won’t nudge you. I figure you are busy and you’ll take your turn soon. However, once we pass 48 hours, I’m more likely to utilize the nudge button.

My sister, Suzy (sorry…she is known as Suzanne, but will always be Suzy to me) has a built-in nudge button of her own. It’s called  Type A personality. She knows what she needs to do, sets an agenda, and gets it done. If you are involved in the plan, you better get on board or get off the tracks. And, as a mom of three (ages 9, 9, and 7), the wife of a Pastor, with a very successful career in law, and heavily involved in her community as a volunteer board member in organizations. I’d say her Type A personality and ability to nudge people in the right direction are needed and useful. I get lost just trying to keep up with plans for myself…I can’t imagine trying to coordinate her life!

Let’s have a look at how Suzy’s nudge button works:

Grad School
For many years, my family encouraged me to pursue a Master’s degree. For equally as many years, I tried to avoid pursuing a Master’s degree. I never really enjoyed school and struggled at times, so when I finished my undergraduate degree, at the graduation ceremony, I ran across the stage, grabbed my degree, and kept running! I’m pretty sure I barely stopped on the stage for the required “Grip and Grin” photo with the President. I wasn’t really sure if he was going to reach for my hand or for my degree. I was heard yelling “I’m never going baaaaaaack to school again!” all the way back to my seat. But, years later, I started to realize that a Master’s degree was probably a smart thing to do, but fear held me back. Suzy began to nudge. “Hey…have you started grad school yet? When are you starting? What are you going to take?” “You can do it. Grad school is very different from undergrad. You have no reason to be afraid. You’re older and wiser now. You CAN do it!” (And, now that I have started grad school) “Hey…what are you taking next semester?” “Have you registered yet?” “When will you finish?” She continues to gently nudge me from time to time, prompting me to keep going and not give up. I have come to appreciate the nudges that come in the form of encouragement and support.

For many years now,Sharon and I have enjoyed vacationing with Suzy, Joel, the kids, and mom and dad. We usually go to the beach for a week in the summer, but we also take other trips throughout the year as our schedules allow. I know when I get a phone call that starts with “Hey, I’m considering a trip to (insert location here) and was thinking that we could (insert activity here)….”, that it’s going to be a great idea and lots of fun. I also know I need to clear my schedule to help firm up plans because a plan has been set in motion. And, (remember from above) once a Suzy plan is in motion, you better get in motion too.  After the initial proposal is made, nudges to not delay and make a decision follow.  “Hey…did you go online and look at the activity? What did you think? Can you go on X dates?” And, if I haven’t firmed up plans by the next day, the nudges continue. “Hey…are you in? If so, I’m going to call and book it right now.” I’m thankful for these nudges as well because the end result is always something fun, different, and filled with precious time with my family and Sharon.

Lest you think I’m the only being nudged, I’ll let you in on a little secret.  Suzy recently shared with me that she had managed to irritate her legal assistant, Helen, with electronic nudges. Suzy has a system in her legal work that she created and refers to as PFS. Now, remember, she has a Type A personality. In her words, “I’m organized! Got a problem with that?” PFS stands for Print, File, Save. When she sends a document or email that is pertinent to a case she is working on, she forwards the document or correspondence to Helen with the subject line “PFS”. PFS means print the document or correspondence, save an electronic copy, and place a hard copy in the case file. Suzy was recently at a conference where she had a little extra time in her schedule.  She utilized her extra time to review her sent email box and realized she had “a few” emails that needed to be PFS’d. She began to forward them to Helen with the subject line “PFS”. One after the other. Over 200 electronic nudges to print, file, and save. Yes, you read that right…over 200! The emails dated back to July! Suzy says they dated back to mid-August, but Helen said the truth of the matter was that there were some dating back to July. These electronic nudges were in addition to about a ream and a half of already printed PFS documents. Suzy had fallen behind in her own system and ended up nudging poor Helen to the point of exasperation, which resulted in a “I’m sorry I fell behind in my own system…please enjoy these flowers to make up for it” flower delivery to Helen. I think Suzy realized Print, File, Save was about to become Helen’s version of Please Find Someone else! It’s my understanding that the flowers were received graciously.

So, dear readers, I encourage you to listen to the nudges in your life. Sometimes they come from friends. Sometimes they come from family. Sometimes they come from God. I can promise you this…if you ignore the first nudge, there will be second. And a third. And so on until you acknowledge them. I’m thankful for a sister who has continued to nudge me through life by way of encouragement, support, love, and lots of fun trips. But, also remember, that nudges from Suzy follow a pattern of nudge….nudge….NUDGE! Remember, get on board or get off the tracks. The light at the end of the tunnel will not be an extended time for you to make a decision. It will be the headlight of the Suzy Plan-Making train!

Honey, I Killed The Cat

For our fifteenth wedding anniversary, Joel adapted Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem to commemorate each year of our marriage, which I have partially excerpted below:

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways……One wall papering job (our first year of marriage which almost became our only year of marriage after undertaking that project together)….Four moves…..Eight cats…..Ten surgeries….Thirteen times daily turning the lights off (Joel‘s pet peeve about me leaving all the lights on)…..Fourteen Christmases, and Fifteen Wonderful Years of Marriage and three beautiful children.”

Of those entries, eight cats is perhaps the most demonstrable evidence of Joel’s good nature and true love. He does not love cats. Heck, he doesn’t even like cats. But, when we were dating, he hid that fact when I introduced him to my two Persian cats, Sophie and Othello. Oh, kitty, kitty he said as he gingerly patted their heads and goofily grinned. Over all these years Joel has been extremely accommodating and good-natured as a procession of cats has come and gone. And, so far he has only killed two of them. Accidentally, he says.

One Autumn evening a regal silver cat turned up on our back porch—well, actually, he stalked Joel in the darkness and followed him home as Joel walked our poodle— with glistening gun-metal gray fur and Coke-bottle green eyes, and mewed pitifully as he stared wistfully through our glass back porch door. One ear bore the mark of battle with a notch missing from it. I fed him, and of course, once you feed a cat, it becomes yours. Sterling was sweet and affectionate, and favored me over everyone else. Of all my cats, Sterling was one of my favorites.

That same winter, mere months later, Joel called me as I drove home through winter’s darkness and haltingly blurted out, “I killed the cat. I ran over him in the garage and the kids were in the car when I did it. And now they are all crying.” Five minutes later I arrived home, raised the garage door centered within the shadowy outline of the house against the starless night sky, and gazed into a brightly lit diorama vignette reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting. Except for the macabre subject and bad lighting. And copious tears. There stood Joel and all three children still huddled in a semi-circle sorrowfully looking down upon an obviously dead cat with blown pupils and tongue lolling out to one side. The fluorescent overhead lighting cast a greenish pall over the scene, and I felt green in my stomach.

Okay, everyone. Let’s go inside and move away from the body. I ushered the crying crew into the house and began triage to calm each person, including despairing Joel. Joel had also called my father, a doctor, who was on his way despite the absurd pointlessness of a house-call. Sure enough, Dad arrived a few minutes later and officially called the time of death. Inside, the children were in various states of mourning: Noah, our animal lover, sobbed. Sarah Grace was tearful, but settling down. And, Samuel, our future doctor, plotted how to conduct an autopsy on the goo drooling out of Sterling’s mouth onto the polished concrete floor. In between consoling his brother, sister, and father, I issued stern warnings to Samuel, “Don’t you dare touch that fluid! Stay in this house!” Dad and Joel dug a grave in the black coldness.

Not long after that, one night at our supper table, the kids were unsettled and wild. Milk was spilled. Joel was angry. I intervened with a general observation that accidents happen and we all need forgiveness. To which Noah commented sarcastically, “Yeah. Let’s not forget who killed the cat, Dad.” And, with our humor regained and a sad event now ruefully funny, we all moved past the night that Daddy killed the cat.

Until the next cat died on Joel’s watch. Which is a story for another day.