Dec 23, 2008

Baby it's Colorado-Cold Outside

I'm visiting my sister's family in Colorado, a small town outside Castle Rock, halfway between Denver (site of the Democratic Convention) and Colorado Springs (Ground Zero for Dobson and Evangelicalism: the Politics). Nancy's house is decidedly Republican. They are the good kind who are pro-life, anti-big government. They believe in home schooling, organic gardening, taking care of the weak and feeble (my mom) and T1 high speed Internet.

There's nothing like little kids to make you feel like you have a fan base. I haven't been back here since Thanksgiving 2006, and we only got a couple days time. Larry is back in LA and will arrive on Christmas Eve.

We had good reason to believe my mother might not make it to Christmas 2009. She got severely ill a few weeks ago, and it looked like it was time to put her in a convalescent home: something none of us wanted to happen. After a few colon hydrotherapy sessions (try explaining to a weak, 85 year old woman with vascular dementia why she has a hose up her rear. Not fun). But Mom is OK. As OK as an 85-year old woman with vascular dementia could be.

I came early to help out, play babysitter while Nancy's family went out and did the kinds of things they haven't been able to do, having to watch mom 24/7. They went down to the Springs for Phill's office party. Last Friday the children participated in a reader's theater of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. They rehearsed all day and then Mom and I joined them. They failed to mention that all three performances were outdoors. In 10 ˚F. Mom stayed in the coffee house. The kids were great. Matthew is 15 and is a debate master. Right now he's working on his Apologetics debate speech. He's reading Matthew Henry and Martin Luther.

Emily is 12 and is a born actress. She can do most any accent imaginable and has great comedic timing. She and Lizzie, 6, share a small room that is decorated in 6 year old pink. Emily and I are launching a stealth campaign to convince Lizzie that pale aqua and chocolate brown are super cool colors for little girls. We scored a coup a few nights ago: Emily was doing a pastel drawing with the same colors and Lizzie copied her. When Lizzie gave her drawing to me, I gushed on how pretty it was. I suggested she hang it up on her wall. ... and maybe her whole room would look good like that. I looked over at Emily and said, "planting and payoff."

Jonathan turns nine years old two days after Christmas. He played "Max," the Grinch's dog. Jonathan nearly stole the show with his hilarious experessions.

Lizzie, the 6-year-old girl who loves pink, played Cindy Lu Who in the Grinch. She confessed taht she was nervous her first performance, but she got mor comfortable with the audience in the second and third showings. She is bold and daring, Nancy says. She isn't afraid to give hugs or ask serious questions. "Uncle Jim?" She asked my brother pointedly on his last visit .. "Do you like celery?" She knows Larry hates celery. She's just trying to find out the family diversity. She is the perfect antidote to self-absorption and self pity. She asks so many questions, she gets me out of my own head. She is so quick to give, to hug, to love.

I understand how God can love us each individually, and how we can each be his favorite. They're all such great kids.

And they were homeschooled, given strict discipline, lots of love, and a heavy dose of Republican politics.

Phill and I got into a discussion on the way to the Grinch performance. Phill said Obama had the worst voting record ever on abortion, refusing to allow any rights for the unborn. Phill said Obama refused to let any language be added to the partial birth abortion ban ... nothing added so that the ban could be lifted if the mother's life is at stake. Larry said the opposite: that Obama voted against the Partial birth abortion ban because he wanted that clause in there. I don't know which is true. I tried to explain to Phill that Obama comes from an African American constituency where there is runaway teenage pregnancy and poverty; and it's important to understand the lives of people who aren't like us. Not to throw out right to life issues, but at least to have understanding. Phill piped in, "yeah, African Americans have a 50% abortion rate. They are committing genocide on themselves."

I am pro-life, but I also want to put myself in the shoes of others. I'm more akin to thinking, let's reduce the number of abortions. But I also think that should come with putting some restrictions on them, like banning the partial birth abortion which is barbaric and unconscionable, and also making contraception available. But then I have to try to understand people like Phill, too. Rod Dreher said in so many words, "if you were an Abolitionist speaking to a slave owner, you wouldn't say: 'we believe Africans are fully human and have rights like everybody else ... but we want to understand you and your slavery mindset."

But then my tempearance toward Phill grew thin when he brought up gay rights. Forget gay marriage, Phill doesn't even want to give gays domestic partner benefits because a, it's a huge burden on small businesses to grant health benefits and b, he doesn't want to support what he calls an 'immoral lifestyle.' Which made me wonder why we passed the Wall Street bailout.

I wish I could have replied with: "can you refuse to give medical insurance to nonchristians? To muslims, to atheists? And anyone else whose beliefs you disagree with?" But really the point is more like: how can you best demonstrate God's love and grace, who loved us when we were uninterested in him? What if God calls you to love and support someone regardless if they change or not?

Then Sunday came and we heard that sermon, and afterward Phill said he tended to be legalistic. I wanted to shout AMEN then as well. But then, I look down at legalistic people, and I'm being a pharisee myself. So all I can say is, "God have mercy on me, a sinner."

I think about these big-ticket issues, maybe too much. Maybe I worry too much about what people think of me. But anyway it's on my radar. I'm so glad they are no longer in that neo-Amish group, that the kids get to watch DVDs and YouTube with restrictions.

My mom is physically better but she is senile. I forgot what it was like when she was still aware and articulate. Even after she had a stroke we were able to have conversations. Now she struggles to articulate herself when she is aware; and other times she spouts out things and none of us know what she really means. And other times she's NOT clear. She's like a child. When she's up and around it's easy to get frustrated with her childish behavior. But when I go to sleep I feel the weight of that loss.

Anyway that is life in Colorado. It's way different here. I love how beautiful it is. Most of all, I love my sister and her husband and kids. And I love my mom. And I'm aware this may be THE very last Christmas she is with us.

PS: My brother-in law Phill wrote to clarify some of the things he said. I wanted to add his thoughts below:

African Americans do not have a 50% abortion rate overall, but the abortion rate is much higher for African Americans (over 40% for sure) and it is 50% or higher in some communities (e.g. New York City, Detroit).

I'm not trying to "bash" Obama, but his record on abortion to me is horrible. He told the Planned Parenthood Action Fund in 2007 that his 1st act as President would be to pass the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA). This act would invalidate almost every restriction on abortion including the partial-birth abortion ban.

Regarding his record in the Illinois State legislature read this article:

I don't like the (article's) focus on "Obama lied," but ... Obama voted against pretty much anything that restricted abortions at all, both in Illinois legislature and the U.S. Senate. ... in his 4 yrs. in the U.S. Senate he voted against abortion restrictions every single time. I pray that as President he may re-think his position on these issues and become an advocate for defenseless children. Presidents sometimes change once they are in office.

Finally, I am NOT opposed to offering medical benefits to same sex couples - I am against REQUIRING businesses to offer same sex benefits to its employees. ... If a church, business, small or large, decides that it wants to extend the same medical benefits to homosexual couples as married couples, then that's their right - I'm in favor of business owners having the right to make these decisions, not the bureaucrats in Denver or Washington.
Phill's beliefs are motivated by his faith; we may not share the exact same opinion on politics or these social issues, but I don't share the exact same opinions as my husband, either. What I appreciated about Phill is, he didn't attack, argue or criticized; he just shared his beliefs in a respectful way. My comment about their former church being 'neo-Amish' kind of stung him as well. But I explained myself. It's a long story, suffice to say I'm glad they're out of that church and so are they. And I really shouldn't have called them neo-Amish.

Besides, the Amish are pro-peace. What's wrong with that? ;)

Dec 10, 2008

Bailout Motor City

My brother sent this to me. Wished I'd seen it in a magazine.

You might not be able to read the text at the bottom, but it says:

You probably thought it was smart to by a foreign import of superior quality, with better mileage and resale value. Maybe you even thought that years of market share loss might prod us into rethinking our process and redesigning our products with better quality in mind. But you forgot one thing: we spend a shitload of money on lobbyists. So now you're out $25 billion, plus the cost of your Subaru. Maybe next time you'll buy American like a real man. Either way, we're cool.

I was raised being told that America was the country of virtue and freedom. Alexis DeToqueville wrote in the 1700s, "America is great because it is good." We loved to quote that. But the other part of the quote was, "once she ceases to be good, she will cease to be great." I think maybe we reached that "cease to be" phase.

So when did you first have that rude awakening that America was no longer good?

Putting the Fun In Dysfunctional

Just want to put another plug for Catheryn Brockett's hysterical new book: The Dysfunctional Family Funbook: Games and Activities to keep you sane your whole trip home! You can find it on Amazon, and don't forget to check out the book's website.

Dec 1, 2008


Larry and I have a rule: no Christmas music before Thanksgiving. For one, it keeps the music special. The season has been hijacked as it is. Or as my mother used to say, when she could put two words together, "When you see the Christmas decorations go up, you know Halloween can't be far behind." The other thing is: it's non stop yule music for Larry, once the pilgrim shoes come off.

I learned this the hard way our first Thanksgiving together. More precisely, on the 18 hour drive to Colorado and back. Larr couldn't wait to play All Christmas, All the Time. My brother Jim was in the car and he complained. Little did he realize we put on the music to shut his yapper. Put my brother in a room and if there is dead air space he will fill it with fun facts about the well-tempered klavier, oboe reed making, the terminal velocity of rocks and everything you would ever want to know about wine. Every kind of wine. He knows I'm in AA 9 1/2 years now and he still finds wine interesting to talk about around me. For hours. You'd play "Rockin Around The Christmas Tree" too.

I have some bad memories of Christmas music. I was scarred in grade school when we drove 3 1/2 hours from Orange County to the High Desert, and the only station we could get was playing Jose Feliciano's "Feliz Navidad" every twenty minutes. To this day I cannot listen to that song. Unfortunately it's one of Larry's favorites. But so is "Jingle Bells" barked out by dogs. I, on the other hand, prefer the classical stuff: Choir of Kings College Cambridge, Chanticleer, men throwing their voices like girls. It's not the only Christmas music I like, but I definitely gravitate toward it.

But our third Christmas together I'm finally coming to appreciate some of the songs on Larry's list. I despise Motown. The Supremes are like nails on a chalkboard. Yet I would put Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) on my short list, even over the U2 version. And these days I'm really digging Mariah Carey's "Silent Night."

Larry and his sister Dianna introduced me to the Mackenzie brothers "Twelve Days Of Christmas. I think it must have been a sketch on Second City TV. (SCTV).
On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me ... Beer.
Eight comic books, seven packs of smokes, six packs of tooth forks, five golden touques!
Four pounds of back bacon, three French toasts two turtlenecks, and a Beer. In a tree.

I do love some modern Christmas songs, but others are useless. Like Tom Petty's "Christmas All Over Again?" And all over town little kids gonna get down ... Christmas is a rockin' time, put your body next to mine ... hope you have a good one, I hope momma gets her shoppin' done... ACK. He must have had a contract to fulfill.

I bought a double album of "Essential Carols" by Kings College Cambridge. After the thirteenth carol, they all started to sound like a bunch of castratis singing in a catacomb about "lo the feathered pheasant flies, ring-dong ding now death must die, Aleluiah hodie, Yay-Zoo Christus Natus Est." It actually made me nostalgic for "Rockin Around the Christmas Tree." For a nanosecond.

"So Susan, do you like anything? At all?'' Sure I do. I've got a long list of songs I love, but here's the short list to start.

Est Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen, J.E. Gardiner Montiverdi Choir
Christmas Time is Here (instrumental), Vince Guaraldi. From "A Charlie Brown Christmas."
Gaudete, Steeleye Span
Do They Know It's Christmas? Band Aid. Totally 80s.
Christmas Time Is Here Again, The Beatles: Their Christmas messages got weirder every year. This was before acid and Yoko.
Christmas for Cowboys, John Denver. Larry introduced me to this one.
Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy, David Bowie & Bing Crosby. From a TV special.
All I Want for Christmas is You, Mariah Carey
The Holly And The Ivy, George Winston -- from the album December. Still holds up.
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). Darlene Love. Makes me almost love Motown.
Oy to the World, No Doubt. When you need to get rid of the sticky sweet.
12 Days of Christmas, Bob & Doug McKenzie. From Second City TV. Hysterical.
Huron Carol, Chanticleer. The first Native American carol.
The Infant King (Old Basque), King's College Cambridge. Just discovered this one.
Same Old Lang Syne, Dan Fogelberg. You may remember it. It IS a Christmas song.
O Magnum Mysterium, Chanticleer.
Coventry Carol, King's College Cambridge
O Tannenbaum, Vince Guaraldi
Silent Night, Mariah Carey
Some Children See Him George Winston
Happy Christmas/War is Over, John Lennon.
All That I Want, The Weepies. A new one I discovered through Lori Rooney.
Christmas Bells, John Gorka. From Larry's list.

You might recognize "Est Is Ein Ros Entsprungen" as "Lo how A Rose E'er Blooming," and before you write it off as just another castrati singing in a catacomb, have a listen here.

There is much more to say about Christmas, and Advent, and what it really meant that God emptied himself, squished himself down into the most meager vulnerable human form. But I'll leave that for next time.