Friday, November 30, 2007

Why I Love Christmas

I love Christmas. I do. I know, it's not hip to admit such a thing. But there it is.


10. Because last year, my cranky, 78 year old curmudgeon of a father decided he liked "Wonderful Christmastime" by Paul McCartney. "What's that song ... 'simply, having a wonderful Christmastiiime'?" he sang to me, over the phone.

9. Because the idea that a culture would celebrate the concept of a little baby bringing salvation really is a lovely one. As we say often in our UU Christmas services -- every night that a child is born is a holy night. The manifestation of inherent worth and dignity. How incredible it would be if every child born were treated as if they, too, might be the messiah.

8. Because I get to be as corny as I want to be and -- at least now -- it thrills my kids. No, PB, you'll never see me in the pulpit with a holiday sweater, but I have one with a Christmas tree on it -- a handmedown from my mother -- and pish on any who say it's nerdy. I am a Christmas nerd and I shall let my decorated freak flag fly.

7. Because one Christmas Eve, peace really did break out ... even if it were just for a short time.

6. Because anyone can be Santa Claus. (Rest in peace, Larry Stewart. May your legacy continue.)

5. Because I love the reality of Christmas, not the Currier-and-Ives-Norman-Rockwell myth of Christmas. Which is why Robert Earl Keen's Merry Christmas from the Family is my all-time favorite Christmas song. Christmas is running to the store for a pack of diapers and discovering after dinner that we forgot to put out one of the side dishes and a kid preferring to play with the box the toy came in and parents cursing on Christmas Eve as we try to assemble the "easy assemble" toy that is assuredly not.

4. Because we make homemade tamales to eat on Christmas Eve. 2 years on up, everyone makes tamales. This will be LW's first year to spread masa.

3. Because a few nights before Christmas, we make the kids put on pajamas and go to bed, only to come running in 2 minutes later, madly swirling sleigh bells and shouting "Jingle Bell Sleigh Ride!!!", then bundling them into the car, stopping to pick up cocoa (if it's cold) or egg nog milkshakes (if it's warm) and fast food snacks and then driving all around, playing Christmas music and looking at lights. And every year, the kids will whine and grumble -- Why do we have to put on pajamas? Why do we have to go to bed? -- completely forgetting what happens every single year. They're not very bright, but they're mine and I love them.

2. Because my favorite 10 minutes of the entire year is coming. Christmas Eve night, after everything is assembled and filled, kids in bed, everything ready for the morrow, I go outside with our sleigh bells and ring them, just about three times. Just enough that maybe, maybe, some child dozing in their bed might hear them. And then I come inside, and sit on the couch with The Husband, and we sit there, with only the lights from the Christmas tree, and we bask in the moment and the anticipation.

1. Because Christmas comes around every year, no matter what. Somehow or other, it came just the same! And so even the years of horrible Christmases add to the memories, in that bittersweet way of making you appreciate the good ones. And we say, "We survived that." The year my Dad had just been diagnosed with cancer. The year after my brother committed suicide. And the good years. The times (2) my whole family went to the Bahamas together. And that wonderful, magical Christmas, 20 days before the awful dark day when Little Warrior was diagnosed with Wilms' Tumor. An incredible, innocent, Christmas with everyone -- everyone! -- from both sides of the family. Meemaw and Bubbe and Pops. Aunts and the one Uncle. Unheard of, a Christmas like that. And through those darkest days that would follow, I would look back and say, "Well ... we had a really wonderful Christmas."

Little Warrior has scans next Thursday. As I write this today, I have no idea -- will this be a really wonderful Christmas, or will it be a Dark Christmas? I can't know.

But still ... I love Christmas.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Noble Sacrifice -- Or Justifying What You Were Going to Do Anyway

Do we, as culture, still know what sacrifice means?

In the case of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, it meant walking everywhere ... from December 5, 1955, to December 20, 1956. 380 days of worn out shoes and lost jobs. That is a sacrifice.

Last Friday was National Buy Nothing Day. But how many people "participated" in that, who had been planning on going out and spending all day doing Black Friday shopping? Or was this, as I suspect, merely an opportunity to pat oneself on the back for doing what you planned anyway, staying home away from the hordes? (Don't even get me started on the economic class issues this brings up ...)

And I just read an article about women who are purportedly not having babies because of the potential impact on the planet.

I am a bit cynical, you see, because the persons mentioned did not go on to adopt children. Which tells me that these were not people aching to hold a child to their chests. These were folks who didn't want to have children anyway. But now, they have such a noble reason for it!

And then there are those emails that come around like clockwork, proclaiming that a certain day is set aside for no one to gas up their car. That'll teach the oil companies!

If you're really going to sacrifice, my hat is off to you. If you didn't spend last Friday, and aren't going to spend at all for Christmas, prefering to give homemade gifts or forgo gift-giving entirely, more power to you.

And if you are going to walk everywhere, or adopt rather than procreate, or what-have-you, well, then, kudos for you.

But patting yourself on the back for something you were going to do anyway, for your own selfish reasons ... oh puleeeaze.

You really think that if they'd just boycotted the buses for one day, things would have changed?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Thanksgiving Panini

We all know that the leftovers are better than the actual dinner, right? And now, with the "invention" in our house of the Thanksgiving Panini, I might have everyone begging me to make Thanksgiving the day before, so we can have these on Thanksgiving.

Take some good baguettes, not super-skinny, and slice lengthwise and crosswise for sandwiches. Fill each with mayo, and squeeze some of that wonderful garlic that roasted in the turkey juices. (See obsessive turkey.)

Layer on whatever leftovers strike your fancy -- cornbread dressing (yes, on a sandwich!), cranberry sauce, a little gravy, and of course, the turkey. The Boy added green beans to his. I think The Husband added a slice of cheese, maybe some of the sweet potatoes.

Grill in a panini maker, waffle iron, or just in a skillet, with another skillet put on top of the sandwich to squish it down a bit.


And now ... off to check on my turkey bone gumbo.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

I am thankful ...

That, right now, my heart doesn't have a hole that will never heal.

That, right now, not only can I pretend to be normal, I can actually feel like everything is normal.

That, right now, I can get so mad at LW for doing 2 year old type things, I want to strangle her.

That, right now, her "adventure" is just that. Yes, she went through cancer. And The Boy went through intussusception, and the Princess has her things and Bo Peep has hers ... and that's just life.

That, right now, there are changes in my life. And they're all good.

That, right now ... I will set six places at the table: one for The Husband, one for me, and one each for my four children. And then I will set a place for whomever else is joining us this year.

But there are no empty places. Anyone not here, is simply not here.

I am thankful.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Super long post with recipes

I'm not going to repeat the instructions for Obsessive Turkey, you can just go look at it. But here's some of the recipes for the rest of our feast.

Regarding the sauerkraut ... I had read about it for years, having sauerkraut at Thanksgiving. Then I heard Sara Moulton talk about. Well fine, I thought, I'm going to give this crazy idea a try.

Not crazy at all. It's just perfect with all the rich food and gravy. Try it, try it! If you like sauerkraut at all, you'll be converted. And the below recipe is just fabulous.

Pralined Sweet Potato Casserole (I think I'm going to add some chipotle peppers to this potato mixture this year.)

3 cups mashed sweet potatoes
2 beaten eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup milk
Mix and spread in 11 x 13 pan.

1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
1 cup pecans
Mix and sprinkle on top.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or so.

Crunchy Thanksgiving Dressing

2 pans cooked cornbread, dried out overnight and crumbled (I like to put lots
of herbs and spices in the cornbread itself before I bake it)
1 cup chopped onion
1 can water chestnuts, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
generous handful chopped toasted pecans
1 cup chopped green pepper
chicken broth
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
spices: Italian seasoning, dill, paprika, cayenne -- whatever you like!

Saute onion, celery and green pepper in a little olive oil til tender. Combine
with rest of ingredients in saucepan, adding chicken broth til of the texture
you like. If you like, you can finish this off by putting in a casserole dish
and baking in the oven.

From Deborah Madison's ``The Savory Way'' (Broadway Books, $20).

2 cups pecan halves
8 peppercorns
4 cloves
1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick
41⁄2 ounces piloncillo
1⁄2 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup espresso or strong coffee
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large egg
Yolks of 2 large eggs
3 tablespoons half-and-half or cream
Pinch salt
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon flour
1 (10-inch) tart shell, blind baked

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Toast the pecans on a cookie sheet for about 10 minutes, until fragrant. Be careful - they burn easily. Set aside to cool.

Bruise the peppercorns and the cloves, crushing them slightly with a pestle, then combine in a small saucepan with the cinnamon, piloncillo, corn syrup and coffee. Bring to a boil. Simmer about 10 minutes until the piloncillo is dissolved. Add the butter, in pieces. Set the mixture aside to cool, stirring occasionally so that the butter melts.

Beat the egg and yolks together. Add the cooled syrup to the eggs, along with the half-and-half, salt, vanilla and flour. Stir to combine.

Arrange the pecan halves attractively, rounded sides up, in the tart shell. Carefully pour the syrup over the nuts, rearranging them if the liquid spoils your pattern. Bake about 35 minutes or until tart is set.

2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans sauerkraut, drained
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 medium onions, finely chopped

(I make this a few days before Thanksgiving.) Combine the sauerkraut in a large saucepan with the sugar, vinegar, caraway seeds, and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring often. Reduce the heat to low and cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauerkraut has absorbed some of the liquid and is very dark, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes.

Remove the cover from the sauerkraut and increase the heat to high. Bring to a boil and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat and add the onions. Return the cover and set aside until ready to serve. (Or refrigerate.)

Gently reheat the sauerkraut, stirring to mix in the onions, over low heat until warmed through, 3 to 5 minutes. Serve hot with the turkey and stuffing and pan gravy, if desired.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Unplugging the Christmas Machine

I think that if we want to preach to the people who aren't already planning on simplifying Christmas, we need to stop titling sermons with negative terms.

"Unplugging the Christmas Machine" = Turning off Christmas!

They're coming to take your Bing Crosby and your twinkle lights and your roasted chestnuts and your Charlie Brown Christmas! And Rudolph, too!

"Finding a Richer Christmas" "Making Memories" "My Heart Sings - A Holiday Plan"

I'm just sayin' ...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Holy Spirit at Work

Last week, I wrote about what happened in my Christian Ethics class, but I didn't include the personal back story. Which has grown and -- after a remarkable speaker, last night -- blossomed.

A few weeks ago, I became good friends with one of my classmates. I'll call him George. George is a big, black, handsome man, about 50. He is gay. And he has lived a life, oh boy. A life of addiction and pain, but here he is, in seminary.

It was he who gave the presentation that led to the discussion about homosexuality. And it centered on the question -- would you hire someone gay to work in your church?

So, last week ... it wasn't just philosophical, this discussion. It was personal. He and I both felt so ... hurt.

My class is mostly made of black students. And for him, I think that's what hurt the worst. He wrote to me -- It amazes me how black folks especially, can discriminate against anyone. How they have forgotten what life used to be like in America ...

I shared some of this in an email with my father. He wrote back -- give me George's email. Last night, George told me that he received an email from Dad, explaining that he was 78 years old, and was raised to be a bigot and a homophobe, and his best friend now is a gay man and George, keep the faith. It was apparently quite a sweet email from the man who prides himself on being a curmudgeon.

My dad is cool.

Last night, before class, one of our fellow students whom I'll call Amy talked to me. The previous week, when students were saying, no, homosexuality is a sin, and they wouldn't hire someone gay, I asked, "Well, are you going to have a list of all the sins, during the interview? Are you going to go down it, checking off things?"

She had thought about that all week, she said. And isn't it interesting, she said, that with some things, we help the person into counseling or recovery services, and we're there to help them, but with others, we simply write them off. We chatted about that for a while. And about whether those same ministers would refuse to hire someone who goes shopping or watches football on the Sabbath. So she's thinking.

And then ... the biggie.

We had an amazing speaker last night. This guy is the real deal. If you want to know about someone who is walking the walk, doing the loving and leaving the judging for others, get his book. Right now. (You can also go to and pick up a used copy.)

His name is Rudy Rasmus and he wrote the book, "Touch." If you read O Magazine, you know him as the ethics columnist. For him, ethics is simple. Jesus told his disciples that the two most important things were to love God completely and to love your neighbor as yourself. So for Rev. Rasmus, when faced with a dilemma, he applies those issues.

"Sometimes, I miss," he said. "But I never miss an opportunity to love."

And how. His church serves the homeless, serves those diagnosed with HIV. Serves those struggling with recovery. Oh, and he serves wealthy folks, too, like Beyonce.

So, during the Q & A, George brought up the discusson last week. "Would you hire someone to work in your church who is gay?"

We do, said the reverend. To do otherwise would be discrimination. And he talked about love. And not drawing lines in the sand. And in the midst of all this, one of my fellow students, a male, got up and went over to George. And hugged him. And kissed the top of his head.

Sincere? I don't know. A group of students (including that one) huddled in the parking lot after class and judging from their faces, (and the fact that they abruptly stopped talking when I walked over) they were displeased.

We still have a long way to go. But keep the faith, baby. Keep the faith.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Boomer Sandwich, and Barack Obama

My mother, my sister, and I make up a boomer sandwich. Meaning, my mother is WWII Generation, my sister (16 years my senior) is Boomer Generation and I am Gen X.

My mother and I have our complaints about the Boomer Generation. For my mother, the Boomers were the ones telling her that she needed to have her consciousness raised and that she was wasting her life by being "just" a housewife. I have received my own share of comments about how the Boomers broke barriers for me and here I am, ungrateful and a waste of a college degree, staying home with my babies.

The more things change ...

The self-importance of Boomers is a bit grating for my parents. "Weren't we out there marching, too? In fact, weren't we the ones organizing the marches?" they might grumble. Except that they are WWII-Gen, and they generally don't take the time to grouse. I am interpreting their rolled-eyes.

As a Gen X, my rolled-eyes come from the idealistic weak memory of some Boomers. "Well, we've solved the other problems, I think we'll find a solution for the environment, too," one clueless Boomer friend recently said to me. No, she was not being facetious.

And hey, while I am grousing, thanks for inventing the 60-hour work week!

Of course the truth is, some of you Boomers did some amazing stuff. And really did change the world. Sarah Weddington, I give you my thanks. All the female UU ministers who got out there and showed congregations that having a female minister wasn't so wild and crazy. All those who actively worked for tolerance and inclusivity. The women who busted the doors down to the Boardroom.

But as a Gen Xer, I have had the feeling, "Okay, okay, you were wonderful, you changed the world ... can I please stop genuflecting now?"

The problem is, just as there genuinely are slacker Gen-Xers, there are genuinely Boomers filled with their own self-importance, convinced that their view is not just valid, but that it's RIGHT. Exclusively.

And that, I think, is why Obama's quotation had some many folks sitting up and taking notice:

"There's no doubt that we represent the kind of change Senator Clinton can't deliver on. And part of it's generational. Senator Clinton and others have been fighting some of the same fights since the '60s. It makes it very difficult for them to bring the country together to get things done. And I think that's what people hunger for."

Depending on your birthdate-definition of the generations, Barack Obama could be characterized as either a Boomer or a Gen Xer. With this quote, he put himself firmly in the Gen X camp. And a lot of Gen Xers cheered.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Biting out little pieces of me

Ohhhh ... it is so good to come home and wander into the warm room that is uupdates. Do you know, I actually felt hugged, even though none of the posts were to me in particular. It was warm and familiar and reflected my values.

Christian Ethics tonight. Which I normally enjoy, except that tangentially, homosexuality came up in discussion.

Hearing being gay referred to as a sin ... over and over, not viciously, just matter-of-factly ... hurts. Physically hurts. I feel like little bites have been taken out of me, all over.

"We are Christians. We have to uphold our standards."

What I would like to have said, but didn't:

"So, I'm curious ... which is more important to you, that a person be Christian, or that a person not be gay? Cause here's the deal. They're going to stay gay, but they won't necessarily stay Christian. And they're going to leave your church and come to mine, and guess what folks? At my church, you don't have to be Christian. And you certainly won't have left a good feeling in them about what a Christian is. So, really ... which is more important to you? And is homosexuality really that important to you?


My heart feels sad.

Friday, November 02, 2007

How the Grinches Stole Thanksgiving

Oh by gosh, by golly. They've already started the Christmas commercials. Time for a replay of a poem I wrote last year:

How the Grinches Stole Thanksgiving

The Cretishists (Christmas Fetishists) liked Christmas A LOT
But Thanksgiving, they believed, was a day best forgot
They should still get the day off from work, they said,
But it should be considered the First Feast of Christmas, instead.

The Commercialists thought that idea was fine, indeed
For Thanksgiving, they said, there really is no need
“Look,” they said, “We already have Halloween,
And then comes Christmas, so nothing in between!”

Even the Hearts joined in with the plan
They thought it a great way to stick it to The Man
They decided, in good conscience, they couldn’t recognize the day
That celebrated smallpox and the end of Red Man’s way

The Cretishists had already removed from their town
Any evidence of other religions to be found
If you dared to say, “Happy Holidays” during the month of December
The punishment was your choice – die, or be dismembered

So to remove Thanksgiving would be simple, they thought
First remove anything Thanksgiving-related that could be bought
The others joined in, with the Hearts leading the show
“These porcelain Pilgrims are the first things to go!”

Cranberries, pumpkins, they threw them all away
Turkey platters, autumn flowers, scarecrows sitting on hay
“Autumn is really so October,” they sneered
They put up a Christmas tree and everyone cheered.

The night before what-was-Thanksgiving, they all went to bed
Satisfied that the former holiday was dead
They’d wake up early the next day for the Feast
Christmas was here! Let the sales begin! Wear red and green, at the least!

But when they woke up, they got a big surprise
They walked around, their mouths agape, they couldn’t believe their eyes
For the people from all over the land,
Sat at their tables, hand hooked to hand

They spoke of being with the people they love
They expressed their gratitude to the heavens above
“We have such bounty,” they all seemed to say
“And we’re going to stop, and be thankful, all through this day.”

And the Cretishists and the Commercialists, the Hearts et al
Were stumped – they hadn’t removed Thanksgiving at all!
No matter what they did, it still came!
Without pumpkin pie or pilgrims, it came just the same!

They puzzled and puzzled but then had to face
Maybe Christmas, they thought, is fine it its place
But maybe we can still find a reason
For not yet starting the Yuletide season

Maybe there’s a real need for a day to give Thanks
(And not just a day to close all the banks)
Perhaps our soul cries out to give gratitude each year
For all that we have, and all whom we love far and near.

So this Thankgiving Day, please remember its reason
Let the day be its own, and not merely the start of a season.