Monday, November 29, 2010

Bells on Christmas

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I’m back in the choir for Christmas and hopefully beyond, and guess what? I’m a soprano this year. I’m in full-fledged diva mode. I’ve been listening to my Mariah Carey Christmas album and yesterday, in a moment that nearly sent the dog into a full-fledged panic attack (the Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!), I hit a high C. It’s all about air, people. Air in the gullet. (I’m not going to say it sounded pretty, or even socially appropriate, but it was a high C.)

I was pleased to find out that we are singing “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” which is my husband’s favorite carol. I wrinkled my nose when I saw it was NOT the original version, but some newfangled adaptation by the band Casting Crowns.


It is possible that I was born with a very old and cranky soul. Why take a perfectly gorgeous melody and toss it aside for something that is, in my not-so-humble opinion, mediocre? (For the record, the 50’s adaptation by Johnny Marks, who is most notably the author of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” is okay, but Calkin’s melancholy version written in 1872 is the original, and I think, the best. And I’m not even going to tell the story of the day I found “Adagio for Strings” set to techno music on YouTube. There was a hissy-fit of epic proportions.)

The words to “Bells on Christmas Day” were written by the great American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow at the tail-end of the Civil War. Several years before, in 1861, Longfellow lost the love of his life, his wife Fanny, in a tragic accident. After cutting her daughter’s hair during a heat wave, Fanny Longfellow decided to preserve the cuttings in some wax, which dripped onto her dress. A breeze from the window set her dress on fire, and in order to protect her children, Fanny ran into the next room, where Henry frantically tried to extinguish the fire with a small rug. When this failed, he threw himself around her, burning himself in the process.

Fanny died the next morning. Henry, recovering from his own burns, was too injured to go to her funeral. His beard remained full and long because his injuries kept him from ever being able to shave his face without excruciating pain.

Longfellow’s journal, Christmas 1861: How inexpressibly sad are all holidays. I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.

Longfellow’s journal, Christmas 1862: A merry Christmas' say the children, but that is no more for me.

In 1863, Longfellow received word that his oldest son had been severely injured and permanently disabled in battle. His journal that Christmas is silent.

In 1864, on Christmas day, he writes the poem “Christmas Bells":

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"

I have never known such sorrow. I can’t imagine what went on in his heart that would bring him from bitterness and misery to hope and faith. It was, in short, some sort of miracle.

And you should all probably know that as I write this, I am listening to Adagio for Strings and crying like a baby. (I have a very sentimental, cranky old soul.)

Here's hoping your have a blessed start to the Christmas season!

Johnny Cash actually sings the Calkin melody; so do the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They seem to be in the minority.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Greyness- A Thanksgiving Post

The husband is going grey at an alarming rate. He thinks he looks “distinguished” or some such malarkey.

The initial onset came during his third year in law school- he was running the law review, studying for the bar exam, taking classes, and juggling both a baby who screamed from 4pm to 2am daily and a wife whose postpartum depression made her most unlovable.

After a bit of research, I was shocked to learn that stress has not been biologically linked to the onset of grey hair. I’ve always been intrigued by the possibility that a sudden trauma could turn just a part of a person’s hair snow white- like that girl in the X-Men. (My brother-in-law has a white patch of hair. I always assumed he was abducted by aliens and returned to earth thoroughly traumatized with a newly obtained white streak of hair. This would also explain why he is the way he is.) However, there is no concrete evidence that stress actually makes a person’s hair go grey, or that trauma can turn a streak of hair white. The white streaks are actually indicative of something called poliosis- a weird melanin thing. (I still submit that it seems highly coincidental that John’s hair went through such a marked change during the aforementioned period of time.)

For the sake of consistency, let’s pretend stress does make one’s hair go grey faster than genetically preordained. John’s hair is getting worse, and he has made it clear he will never cover up his grey with Just for Men or any other hair dye. I don’t think I’d want him to, anyway, but it’s strange to think that in a few years I’ll be sleeping with a man who’s completely grey. A man I made grey.

I fear that this past year I may have contributed to the silvery strands of brittle hair. I mean, the bad economy and the life-sucking job are certainly also to blame, but I definitely helped. And for that I feel very, very sorry.

I feel sorry for all the nights John came home and I hadn’t bothered with dinner because the kids wouldn’t eat it anyway. (I HATE dinner time.)

I feel sorry for taking advantage of his allowing me to sleep in mornings. (And I wonder why he dozes off at 9:00pm just when I’m raring to go.)

I feel most sorry for a lot of other things that I’m just not going to divulge because you’d probably spit at your computer screen. Let’s just say I can be difficult.

I am not sorry for not ironing. I loathe ironing. He can iron his own damn shirts. (We put that in the pre-nup.)

Don’t get me wrong- he causes me unneeded stress, too. He snores. He hoards mugs. Coffee mugs. We have over fifty mugs and he keeps bringing home more. He recently brought home four matching Senator George Maziarz mugs. Four.

He adopts a new catch-phrase every year or so. When we met it was, “For the love of God!” Recently, he would insert “At the end of the day…” into any given conversation. Lately, it’s “That’s great hustle!” I don’t even know what that one means.

He won’t watch a movie filmed before 1985. He insists he will, but he won’t. He’d fall asleep. He couldn’t pick out Humphrey Bogart in a lineup.

But he loves me. I mean, he really loves me. And he’s infinitely patient with me. I see those grey hairs, and I’m reminded how lucky I am. Because he’s never, ever walked away.

So I’m thankful. Thankful for every single hair I’ve made grey, and for the ones I have yet to turn. Infinitely thankful.

(Happy Thanksgiving.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

My Debussy Girl

I saw a preview last week for the television show Parenthood. A father is in the supermarket with his autistic son, who is throwing an absolute fit over some trivial matter. A looker-on tells the father he should get control of his kid, and the father, who was possibly not having a good day, decks the guy. In the face. It was maybe an overreaction. I kind of want to know what happened to the father.

Ella is not autistic, and has only been labeled with a “severe speech delay” and an “information processing disorder.” Yet, she has quirks. Supermarket quirks. Screaming-for-no-reason-in-the-supermarket quirks.

She hates loud noises, which I find ironic, because of her immense capability for creating vociferous noise. She also hates what she deems “scary music.” Apparently, Mahler’s 3rd symphony falls into this category. She shrieked and carried on so that I had to turn it off. With her lip out (she is an extremely proficient pouter) she requested “Busey.”

And my mind immediately went to… Gary Busey, of course.

“You wanna watch Speed?” I asked.

She marched to the piano and handed me my Debussy music. So I played a shoddy version of Clair De Lune while she happily played with her My Little Pony at my feet.

So to the people who give us reproachful looks at the supermarket, in the church foyer, and at the play museum-

We are doing our best here with what God has given us.

And if they ever cared to know, Ella, I would tell them that you are

Golliwogg’s playmate,
Jimbo’s friend,
You are a jaunty cakewalk
And a Saturday afternoon reverie.
You are
The siren who dwells
Within the sunken cathedral
And the muffled song beneath la mer.
My petit… blanc.
You are dissonance
And melody,
You are dancing snow
And every nocturne that
Sways me to dreams.
The light of my moon,
My Debussy girl.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mouse Tales

There are mice in my house.

I’m beginning to think these are the end of days.

I saw the first, yesterday, scuttle from under my desk to the door that leads to the cubby beneath the stairs. Instinctively and shamefully, I screamed like the stereotypical mammy  as seen on Tom and Jerry. There was much flapping of arms and subsequent shrieking. I startled Daniel so much that he cried.

I calmed down and had a moment of misguided hope. I retrieved my puppy, set her in front of the door the mouse had scampered under, opened it, and jumped up and down, saying, “Get the mouse get the mouse get the mouse- go on, get the mouse! Get it! Get it! Get the mouse get the mouse pleeease get the mouse!”

Kiah sat, tilted her head and stared at me, probably thinking, “And this is the person I have to depend on to feed me. I am definitely screwed.” (To which I respond, “That’s right, bub. And don’t think I won’t trade you in for a cat.")

I called the husband who promised he would bring mousetraps home. He was infuriatingly nonchalant about the whole situation.

“It’s that time of year. The weather gets cold so they come indoors. I’ve heard of three other people at the firm who have had mice in their homes. Plus, the kids leave the door open all the time.”

Yet, his assurances subdued me, and I didn’t even blow a gasket when he forgot to pick up mouse traps on the way home from work.

Then,  late last night, while writing at the computer, I saw a shadow from the corner of my eye behind the paint can in the office doorway. (There’s really no good explanation for why there’s a paint can in the office doorway.) With bated breath, I waited, and sure enough, a mouse that looked a lot like the one I saw earlier ran from the paint can to the closet.

I screamed like Janet Leigh in Psycho. The mice are upstairs. HOW?

When, of its own volition, the scream subsided, I was met with dead silence. Children slumbered peacefully. Husband- alarmingly quiet.

I am all alone in this world.

It could be worse. It could be rats, or snakes, or zombies.

Zombie mice.

It is totally the end of days.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Veterans Day

My grandpa didn't talk about the war.  My grandmother gleaned bits and pieces of information from his nightmares: we know that one night he survived an attack by pure chance- he scurried into the wrong foxhole.  His friends perished in the other. 

Grandpa refused to go camping.  He said he did enough camping in the war.  Instead, he maintained his home to a fault, forever grateful for the warmth and comfort it provided him.

He flew his American flag outside his home every day. 

Every day.

I was so proud to be his granddaughter.

Thank you veterans- your sacrifices overwhelm me. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Sum of All These Parts

The hair situation

My hair doesn’t hold scent. I became aware of this in my early teens when I started buying my own shampoo- bottles of bright pink, apple-scented Salon Selectives. After a hair wash, my girlfriends’ hair would smell soapy, fruity, or flowery, but mine always smelled tiresomely neutral. Like hair.

The cell phone situation

I had a cell phone- a pre-paid doohickey that was stolen a while back. 90% of the time, I forgot to charge it. (The other 10% it was charged, but lost in the cavernous depths of my coat pocket.)

I’m still stuck in the era of Salon Selectives. When I tell people I don’t have a cell phone, I get one of two reactions:

1) A roll of the eyes along with, “Oh, I WISH I didn’t have a cell phone.” (Which always strikes me as disingenuous.)

2) A raised eyebrow. It’s surprising how many people can do this.

Everyone, it seems, wants your cell number. I’ve been asked by my primary physician, my OBGYN, the pediatrician, the school nurse, my kids’ teachers, my friends, my family, some hairy guy at the gym… and I have to shake my head with feigned regret.

Payphones are going the way of the dodo bird, which is an inconvenience. I wonder the following: are people less likely these days to help you if your car breaks down on the highway because they assume you are carrying a functional cell phone? And is NOT carrying a cell phone while driving around with four kids in the car considered irresponsible?

The ear situation

The hole pierced in my right ear at Piercing Pagoda in the fifth grade has closed. I tried to wear earrings when we out a couple of weekends ago, but ended up exhibiting naked lobes. I’ve never liked things in my ears. Earphones are okay; ear buds are gross. Some women wear earrings that precariously dangle down the side of their face every day. They don bracelets and rings and drape layers of necklaces around their necks. 90% of the time, I sport only my wedding ring and engagement ring. The other 10%, I want to wear jewelry, so I put on a necklace and find matching earrings only to discover that my ear is no longer pierced.

It seemed like such a big deal to wear earrings in the fifth grade.

The underwear situation

I need new underwear. I can’t remember the last time I got new underwear. Occasionally, while in Target or Walmart, I think I might pick up some Hanes cotton panties, but I know this would depress the husband terribly. The woman has given up entirely, he will think.

I have a coupon for a free pair of panties at Victoria’s Secret, and will probably do their $25 for 5 panties deal. This appalls me, to pay $5 for a pair of underwear. I will throw away $5 on a magazine I’ll read for a half an hour only to pass along to a friend without a thought, but spending $25 on but 5 pairs of underwear? Why does this bother me so?

And, if I should suddenly perish, murdered by thieves in the street because I didn’t have any phone or jewelry to steal, would the undertaker judge me for wearing threadbare undies? With what might appear to be moth holes? And, I think the following question is imperative: if Viggo Mortensen and I were to start a torrid affair, would the threadware undies be a deal breaker?

The sum of all these parts

Sometimes, I think I am more like a shadow than a person. I am among the living, but am tethered only to myself. I lack a scent, style, and I certainly don’t need sexy underwear.

And I don’t know if I like it that way or not.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Maryland Redux

This weekend, we made our annual trek to Maryland, which is still the land of my sister, Mary.

The weather in Maryland did not live up to my expectations this year. The diminutive state remained rather chilly; it really wasn’t much warmer there than New York. I did not go snorkeling in the bay.

We drove down in a deluge. I drove five hours, and John drove three, which was unfair, and I will complain about it relentlessly until next year. A trucker gave me the finger on the beltway, and I responded inappropriately. That’s about all the excitement there was on the drive down.

Nathan and Mary live in a sprawling community where they have to pay homeowner’s association dues and where the neighborhood garden club is extremely active.  It’s a nice neighborhood. Therefore, it was a little bit alarming when, while Nate and Mary were off at a church meeting, the doorbell rang and I was confronted with one Jane Doe, resident meth junkie.

Doorbell rings. Holly answers door.

Holly: Hello.

Jane Doe: Hi. I’m your neighbor. I live two doors down. I’m really sick and I’m looking for someone to help me out until tomorrow.

Holly: Oh no! What’s wrong?

Jane Doe: I have Crohn’s disease. I’m in pretty bad shape and was wondering if you could help me out.

Holly: Okay- what do you need? Help around the house?

Jane Doe: No, no- nothing like that. I need to get my prescription.

Holly: Do you need a ride?

( I will insert here that I am na├»ve, gullible, and thick.)

Jane Doe: No- I just need money to cover the prescription. Can you loan me $40 until tomorrow?

(This is where John butted in.)

John: We’re not your neighbors. We’re just guests. I think it would be better if you found help from someone you know.

Jane Doe: (Getting desperate.) What. You’re not going to be here tomorrow? Cause I’ll give you the money back tomorrow, if that’s what you’re worried about.

Holly: I’d be happy to drive you to the drugstore and get your prescription for you.

John: I’m sorry we can’t help you.

Jane Doe: Fine. (Leaves in a huff.)

Holly: So nice to meet you!!!

(Later, we find out that there is a warning about Jane Doe on the homeowner’s website because she is a known panhandler. Apparently, she hangs out in front of the Giant and asks passers by for $40: no more, no less. I’m starting to suspect she doesn’t really have Crohn’s disease, which is total affront to those who really DO have this debilitating condition.)

A photographic journey of our journey:

The neighborhood has its own private beach. 

Caleb is quite adept at skipping stones.

I've decided I look best in black and white.  Sigh.
On Saturday, we drove out to the resort town of North Beach!  It was quite deserted.  The candy shop was open and I bought some salt-water taffy for half off.  John and I argued after he said that salt-water taffy is "the most overrated candy ever."  I said, are you daft, man? Anything that bad for your teeth is delish.
Uncle Nate takes the kids longboarding.  You can't go through life always wearing a helmet, people.  That's no way to live.  (I worked really hard not to do any arm flapping and shrieking.)

Caleb, Margot, Adam, and Ben
John, about five seconds before he fell into the bay.
This is called a bluff. 
North Beach clock.  Tally-ho!
My boy.
We spent at least 1/3 of our visit situating the kids into various picture-taking poses.
John's brother, wife, and our nephew Julian met us in Harrisburg for brunch.  The boys would not look at the camera.  But, hey, it's a nice shot of Michael, my good-looking brother-in-law.
The twins were shuffled between three sets of grandparents.  My mother kept Kiah.  During our time in Maryland, she called us several times.  The phone calls became increasingly frenzied, a la the babysitter at the end of the movie The Incredibles.  You know, the one watching baby Jack Jack?  Kiah puts baby Jack Jack to shame. 

Which is why this week, I give up and am looking into obedience school.  For the dog.  And maybe for me.  We could both use some training as I've never been a dog-owner, and she's never been a proper dog.  First, she has to get her rabies shots.  Ouch.

I'd like to bring her to Maryland next year: should John fall into the bay again, I have no doubt Kiah would pull him out.

Last year's trip to Maryland.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Walk

Australian Shepherds are quite variable in temperament. Some lines are extremely energetic, quick moving, and hyperactive, while others tend toward a milder, calmer manner.

It may be too early to tell, but I suspect that Kiah falls in the former category. I suspect this because of the number of times a week I say the following: “THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS!” I might yell it a little bit. I definitely say it twice as often as I did before Kiah came into our home and started decimating it.

So, I’ve begun taking her for long walks. It’s the only way to settle her down a bit. I put the twins in the double stroller and the three of us take a merry jaunt through and out of our neighborhood. I like to stroll down a nearby country road to a very old, small cemetery. The twins get out and stretch their legs while I flap my arms and implore them not to climb the tombstones. After that, we head back. It’s a charming time.

Today’s walk didn’t get off to a good start. I could not find Kiah’s leash anywhere- it wasn’t where I left it and the twins weren’t talking- so I fashioned a leash out of a jump rope. Then, Ella managed to fall out of her seat onto the coarse pavement, which she was not happy about. The cemetery is not even a mile away, but it feels so much longer when you’re pushing twins, picking up stray twins and putting them back in their seats, all while corralling an extremely energetic, quick moving, and hyperactive puppy. There are grates to be avoided, cars not to swerve into, and large teethy dogs to steer clear of.

Today, we made it to the cemetery and I sat with Kiah under a large Hickory tree. Daniel soon broke the tranquility with a “Look mom! A little Daniel chair!” I went over to remove him from the low-to-the-ground tombstone. It was right then that Kiah decided to defecate beside the grave of one Robert Danworth, deceased in February of 1868 at the age of 89. Someone had recently stuck a small American flag by his grave, so I have to assume he was a veteran. Of the Mexican-American War. Or the War of 1812. Maybe even the Quasi-War with France. Who knows. (I think it’s lovely someone out there knows.)

Immediately after she finished her business, Kiah trotted off, bent over, ate a Hickory nut, began choking, and spit the thing up. I stared at her, somewhat dazed. She stared back.

It was then I became irritated; however, always willing to do my duty as a responsible pet owner, I reached into my pocket for a baggie. (This whole carrying your dog’s poop in a baggie thing, by the way, is quite possibly the worst part of dog ownership. Even if it’s triple-bagged, you are still always profoundly aware that you are walking around with sh&# in your pocket. I generally gravitate toward someone’s garbage tote on the curb and sneak Kiah’s waste into it, even though I have heard that some people don’t like their garbage mingling with other people’s garbage- hence the sneaking.)

There was no baggie in my pocket. We’ve only had Kiah a little over a month, so I have not yet developed that “never leave the house without a baggie” mindset.

You can imagine my predicament. I had several options:

1) Turn around and never ever visit the little cemetery again. Pray for forgiveness.
2) Find large leaves, pick up poop, and fling it into the woods behind cemetery. (This was my least favorite option.)
3) Go home and return later to clean up the mess.
4) Ask the woman who was staring at me the next house over if she had a baggie.

I went with option 4 and unloaded the baggie in someone’s garbage tote about six houses down.

The walk took longer than I imagined it would, and as I approached our development, Caleb's  and Ben’s school bus sped by me. And thus a race of epic proportions- think Ben-Hur- commenced. Kiah and I sprinted to the house and arrived 30 seconds before the bus did.

When we got home, Kiah raced to her water bowl. After an incredibly long and sloppy drink, she did something she’s never done before. She went into her crate and laid her head on her paws, looking very beleaguered, and went to sleep. Just like that.

Score one for Holly.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Oh November

It's November. The month of death.

Fall used to be my favorite season. I am still infatuated with the beauty of the  leaves, the crispness of the air, the smell of chimneys, and... that's it, really. You can take the cold, the frosts, the increasing darkness, and stuff it.

I wish I could hibernate.

November would be awful if it wasn't for Thanksgiving.  Oh Thanksgiving.  Cornucopias and pumpkin pie, gelatinous cranberry sauce, glorious tryptophan, and me correcting my children's flawed nomenclature: No, honey, Indians are people from India. What are they showing you Pocahontas in school for, anyway? I could keep you home and show you Pocahontas, except that it is the most historically inaccurate movie I've ever not seen, so I wouldn't.

Soon, the kids will bring home turkeys made from their little handprints, and we will bake gingerbread cookies and read about the Mayflower.  It will rain outside and be grey, but then Ben will spontaneously say something like, "I'm thankful for YOU mom.  I made you a robot."  And suddenly, it will feel as warm as July. 

We'll watch the A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving this year, I hope.  I miss it every year.  That Charles Schultz sure knew how to make a girl all teary. 

I'll simmer cinnamon scented potpourri on the stove, because that's what people who don't bake much do to make their house smell wonderful.  As days pass, the Halloween candy will dwindle and we'll all get a little fatter, just like those poor, ill-fated turkeys.  The pumpkins sitting the porch will start to get ripe, and I'll throw them away amidst protests from children who don't understand that pumpkins are a perishable fruit.

We will be thankful in spite of the bleak skies, the dead leaves, the rotting pumpkins.  We will go around the table, say what we're thankful for, and though our reasons might sound trite, they will somehow still ring true.  And I will be so filled with love and hope, because spring does (so far) always come again, and because we all have each other.

So, on this first of November, I'm thankful for... Thanksgiving.  The whole commercial she-bang.  (And I don't even like turkey that much.  I'd prefer lasagna.)

I think March could use a Thanksgiving.