Thursday, December 23, 2010

Perfect Christmas

Last Sunday the sermon was about the imperfections of the Nativity. Joseph's worry about marrying a woman who was already pregnant, the vexing tax situation, and having to travel a long distance with a pregnant wife, the lodging inadequacy, a baby being born in a barn surrounded by animals, these are not small concerns either for Joseph or Mary. But somehow God helped them to cope with each imperfection as it came up, and in the process over the long haul, brought perfection out of imperfection.
Translating this lesson into everyday living, even at Christmas, is not a task for the fainthearted. Like Paul, we struggle on toward perfection, but it always remains slightly (or more) out of reach. The perfect tree turns out to be completely asymmetrical once it is standing in the living room, and beside that has a gaping hole on one side. The lights are a tangled mess (why did I toss them so carelessly in a box last year like this was not going to happen?), and many of the favorite ornaments become shabbier by the year. The closer the Big Day gets, the more insecure the feelings about whether it is the right present, and at the final moment, it turns out to be the exact wrong thing. Loved ones seem to walk blithely along spreading a wet cold blanket behind and before as they go. The food, despite hours of preparation is not quite up to par, and some favorite and unspoken food desire is not prepared. Those you have waited all year to visit with are in an uncommunicative mood, in pain, or just in a snit. If anything else is broken, nobody wants to hear about it.
What can be done with this long list of calamities? I admit, they do seem trite compared with the list Joseph faced. And yet, from an impossible and improbable situation sprang the hope, forgiveness, and love that makes it possible for each of us to move on and away from painful things, real or imagined.
As I alternately creep and dash toward Christmas Day, I try to keep my eye on the prize. The bowling pen, the ball, or the basket cannot be hit unless all attention is focused on it. All wrongs, annoyances, slights, and dark thoughts must be shed in the dust. I am sitting on a train headed for a New Year where the sun is shining and there are plenty of shells on the beach. I am leaving the boarded up houses, sagging porches, rusty cars, dead Christmas trees, and broken toys. I know there is good life past Christmas.
How did we ever become so confused?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Video About Christmas Celebration

This is an interesting video about Christmas celebration through the years. It shows Christmas celebration as an evolving  tradition.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ruminations About Gifts

This is my 63th Christmas, and thru the years I think I have learned a few things about gift-giving and receiving.
So very seldom have I ever given a gift that was just right. This Christmas that happened. A book bought on a whim from an internet seller proved to be the hit. It seemed like a good book to me, but I have made assumptions like that before. It was a gift to a child and the reaction was of genuine delight.
Many times the gift was wrong and the recipient made no attempt to hide that fact. Handmade ornaments were cast on the floor and presents that were out of my price range at the time they were given were pushed aside without even a thank you as the honoree jumped up to run off to attend to household duties (Martha/ Mary?). Other times the gift was rejected because the specifications for the gift were so exacting that I managed to mess it up. Some of my misplaced gifts still sleep in the attic where they have lain for more than 20 years. I sometimes picture how in the coming years when I no longer buy gifts someone will run across these castoffs and think they are real treasures (antiques?) or wonder why on earth anyone would spend good money on such a thing.
Once when I was a child my aunt gave my cousin and me a gift, even though she did not customarily do so. We opened them together. I was happy enough with my plain white diary till I saw my cousin’s, which was ornately engraved in gold with a lock and key. I had always known that I was not as pretty or as talented as my cousin, but she always loved me with a love so steadfast that I felt perfect in her presence. Even though that aunt lies moldering these many years in her grave, the pain she inflicted lives on.
My widowed sister lived with us when I was in high school. The Christmas I decided to use almost all my money to buy her a diamond cocktail ring shines vivid in my memory. I arranged it so that it would seem that the box fell straight from Santa’s bag. The surprise and pleasure I remember on her face still gives me warmth.
While going through some papers at my Mother’s house, I ran across a yellowed and brittle paper that held a poem I had written for her one Christmas. It was corny but heartfelt, and I felt again her special love for me as I realized how carefully she had kept it all these years.
But Christmas is not the only time for gift giving. As my Mother and Mother-in-law reached their apogee and started their decent, they both began to give me strange gifts. Many times it was pictures cut from magazines, old calendars, or stickers from Easter seal fund raising letters. I took them as if they were real treasures, even when I knew their ultimate destination was the trash. Eventually I began to see that it was not the stickers they were giving me, but an opportunity to share a flash of joy with them. Something had triggered a thought of me and they wanted me to know it. It seemed appropriate that I should be given the object that triggered the thought.
As my children grew I began to collect things for them that I anticipated they would need in the future when they had their own homes. Recently I began to understand that these collected objects were like the calendars and stickers that I had been given. My children live so far away that they usually visit by plane and these are not the kind of things that any sensible person would allot suitcase room to. Besides, they could buy something more appropriate and at least not rusty. They turn away from my offerings not realizing that rejecting a gift is a rejection of the giver. They do not recognize my attempts to participate in some way in their lives which are now so distant from me. And I do not wish to saddle them with useless possessions that will add rather than subtract from their yearly burdens.
Yet I remember with misty eyes the first years of my marriage when a trip home meant returning with a trunk full of groceries, some of which were pretty unusual, things I would never buy. Who needs a huge bag of dried northern beans? I don’t even like them. When there were only 2 of us, my mother-in-law gave me a half gallon of home canned peas. I carted it around for years as we moved place to place. I knew that it represented a lot of work and effort on her part and stood in for the love that she was hard pressed to express any other way.
So choose your gifts carefully, but know that you will probably make mostly mistakes. Don’t forget to be thankful for the small gifts that seem inappropriate and try to see what lies behind them. That is the real gift, but it may take years to understand.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gold Hill Warehouse Tear Down

  For those who travel Alabama highway 147, a landmark is gone. It was torn down in November of this year (2010). Many of the people who live in this are are saddened as I am by the passing of this building from the previous century. Our only hope is that it will not be replaced by prefab fast food restaurant, a gas station, or even a Dollar General. I personally feel it deserves a historical marker.
  At the turn of the century the building was a depot where freight was unloaded from the train. The
name on the rail line was changed from Gold Hill to Gold Ridge because freight going to Grove Hill and Gold Hill were sometimes mixed up and a name change was made to help straighten things out. At some time there was a store in the building  as there were reams of receipts in books some dated from as early as 1909. The last I saw of those books they were half covered by a tarp at the site. Mr. Robert Heath, who died in the recent past, told me all I knew of the history of the place. He knew it because he lived it.
  I guess the best thing that could have happened to that old building did happen. As it was torn down some of the old wood was salvaged for use in some other purpose. I hope sometime to find out where it's eventual home is. The lumber and timbers in the building were huge compared to today as you can see in these photos. The building was beyond repair, having foundation problems, after having stood for so many years, and it was leaning heavily.
 Say goodbye to a past era.
  Does anyone know how to get a historical marker?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Old Mulberry Trees

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These paper mulberry trees were growing in the fence row at my grandmother's house. The first one that I was ever aware of stood at the edge of the road in my aunt's yard, across from my grandmother's house. I liked it because the limbs started low enough for me to climb on and I spent many happy hours playing in that tree and playing with the leaves. It was itchy though, and when I complained of it to Aunt Thelma she told me that if I would stop climbing in that tree and playing with the leaves, I would not itch. I resolved to be more careful, not to stop playing in the tree.I was lucky to not have hay fever as the pollen from this tree plagues allergy sufferers around the world, from February to April in southeast Alabama. Eventually the tree was blown over, a fate common to paper mulberries because of their shallow root systems. The hunt then began for an Umbrella China Berry tree to replace it. I have discussed China Berry trees in another blog.
Paper mulberries (Broussonetia papyrifera )  came to Florida about 1903 from eastern Asia. It spread quickly over the southeast because it was used as a decorative tree. Decorative must have meant different, for it is not decorative to my eye in any sense. These trees have become invasive in many parts of the world, being able to out-compete native vegetation because of their efficient water gathering capability, as well as their propensity to sprout back from roots, and ability to spread readily from seed. It is certainly not a tree you would want to plant, unless you are planning to make some paper, which is it's use in some areas of the world. It would not make a good pulp tree either because the fibers of the tree dull saws at a speedy rate.
But looking at these mulberry trunks makes me admit that there is something artistic and thought provoking about them. They appear to have been through the wars and are still standing despite their scars. They appear to be very old, but mulberries do not grow to a ripe old age. These may be anywhere from 20 to 30 years old.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Handkerchiefs and Quilts

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While cleaning out my mother's house I found these handkerchiefs that reminded me of a time more than 50 years ago when many women, my mother and grandmother included , wore handkerchiefs in pockets or draped them in the edge their purse, leaving the decorative parts exposed. These handkerchiefs were not meant to be used as a tissue, but were purely decoration. The handkerchief for emergencies was probably a white man's handkerchief hidden in the depths of her purse. My grandmother loved to crochet and if you laid anything down, when you picked it back up, it might have a crochet edge on it. Several of these handkerchiefs have her handiwork on the edges. I also have an assortment of dish towels, dish cloths, towels, and pillow cases where she applied her beautiful edgings.
Last week I went to a quilt display at the LaFayette Public Library where I saw some beautiful quilts, both new and old. One of these quilts was made from some decorative handkerchiefs that had been folded or cut into triangles and appliqu├ęd onto quilt squares so that they resembled butterflies. It was stunningly beautiful. Photos of these quilts will  be posted on the Chambers County Library website and I will post a link on my blog when it is ready.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

December 1, 2010 Flowers

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When it is so cold and miserable (I am so glad I don't live in a place with REAL winter.), remembering the flowers cheers me. I think these pictures were made Dec 1, but it may have been as late as Dec 6. I think it was just before the killing frost. These flowers had been protected by the warmth radiating from the brick wall behind them and the concrete below. I took these pictures right before I took these plants in.
The Mandevilla in the top picture grows tall on the wire frame above it . Rather than trying to save the whole thing I just clip it loose and take it into the greenhouse as a stub. It puts back out over the winter and is ready for another summer outdoors when the weather warms again. In Allen Armitage's book on annuals he notes that he has known Mandevillas to overwinter in Athens, Georgia. I want to try that myself next year. I will try to get a cutting started early so that it can get a good root system before winter.
The bottom picture is my old geranium cultivar that came from my grandmother. She called it Apple Blossom and it is the only geranium that ever liked me. I usually root cuttings of this plant before winter and I do have one small one in the greenhouse. But this year I pulled this plant up, trimmed off a few leaves and reset it in a pot in the greenhouse. So far it still looks wonderful.
Bless you Mama Hubert.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Muhl Grass

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Isn't this lovely? This was a planting at Kawliga but I have seen smaller wild specimens blooming along the roadsides.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cross Garden in Prattville

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In November we visited the Cross garden in Prattville. It was built by W.C. Rice starting in 1976 after his mother died.  Warnings and scriptures are painted on crosses, washing machines, air conditioners and other large appliances as well as a junk car and a truck. Mr. Rice died in 2004 and his family has said that they intend to keep up the garden, but it is hard to see how such a varied assortment of signage could really be maintained. The large weeds have for the most part been kept down so that it is easy to walk around the garden and see the signs. One part is surrounded by wire to keep people out. It crosses the road and continues to a more limited degree on the other side.The rocks that surround the area have red paint on each one which must have been a herculean task itself, and the paint must represent the blood of Jesus. If you want to know more about this, go to this site.
Roadside America said it would cause you to think, and I certainly agree with that statement, although I doubt that my thoughts were what Mr. Rice hoped it would inspire. I wondered what God thought of this rusty mess  of crosses and signs, but someone else commented that it might have been the best Mr. Rice could do. I did feel like it was a manifestation of a mind that was at least slightly off kilter. (Some might say that some of my yard ornamentation falls in the same category.)
  Interestingly, neither of the two people we asked for directions were at all critical and obligingly gave helpful directions. There did seem to be quite a few fundamentalist churches in the area. I wonder what people in the Auburn/Opelika area would say if such a garden appeared around here.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas/Thanksgiving Cacti

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I have several Thanksgiving/Christmas cacti, but I recently ran across an article that helped me clarify the names a bit.  Christmas cactus have rounded leaf segments (phylocades) that arch downward, while Thanksgiving cacti have soft points on their leaf segments and the stems tend to be more erect and spreading. By these criteria, it looks like all mine are Thanksgiving cacti. The red one came into flower first, on Thanksgiving day. The pink,white, and fuschia colors came into flower rapidly on its heels.
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