Contemplations in the season of Advent

I have no thesis or overarching idea. Here are the thought-drabs.

1) Adam starts a new job tomorrow
He’s heading to work at a company that’s LITERALLY across the street from his old company. We’ve performed a massive defrag on our gaming group. There used to be six of us in four careers working at six companies. There are now six of us in two careers working at three companies. We converted two of our non-coders to coders, then aggregated all the dudes into one company. That company now has tremendous coding expertise, as well as some battle-hardened dice-wielders if there’s ever an emergency need for a FATE game.

2) We had the first snowfall of the year
It was tremendously scenic, and perfectly timed. It snowed all day Saturday, just enough to have fun playing in and to be gone by the end of the week.

3) We’re getting ready for the attic project
I spent that entire day Saturday reducing our number of bookcases by 1.5 by committing ruthless triage on our book collection. Now is an excellent time to visit the Book Oasis if you’re interested in: religion, Medieval Sociology, fantasy novels from the ’90s that didn’t stand the test of time (looking at you Stephen R. Lawhead), the collected “Wheel of Time” (I am NEVER rereading that) or a large collection of young adult novels in Spanish. Adam worked on clearing out the attic all week between jobs. There’s still a ton of stuff up there to be dealt with. Theoretically work begins in mid January. We can’t get too destructive until after the Christmas holidays, since we have guests over that period.

4) I may never finish writing my Christmas cards.

5) My laundry is folded all wrong
But it was washed and folded by my eldest son, and not based on any dire threats or massive punishments. Because he discovered doing laundry is the only way in this household to get a “watch crappy tv without guilt” card. And now he’s doing laundry. My youngest son does dishes. I’m enjoying the brief moment of smug feeling.

6) We took the kids to a party where they didn’t know anyone
And they made friends and talked for three hours with some other kids in the corner, looking very intense. Holy hand grenades! They’ve reached the talking phase of friend development!

7) In cleaning the attic, I found an unaccounted for Puppy.
I thought I had them all tracked. The only missing one went missing in a hotel room in Canada. Where the heck does this Puppy come from? I’m contemplating confessing to Thane about the true nature of Puppies – namely that he’s on Puppy #5. (I thought it was #4, but there are two in a drawer (with various not-so-attached body parts) and #3 is missing in Canada. So there must be an extra one in there somewhere.) Thane has started waxing rhapsodic on the nature of Puppies and Puppyworld, a utopian place. I hope he never outgrows his Puppies (who are actually bunny rabbits, FYI).

8) There are currently a LOOOOOOOT of cookies in this house.
Om nom nom.

9) It turns out Christmas is two weeks away
#panic

10) I got an award at work last week, for the Diversity & Inclusion and community building work I do
They don’t tell you who nominated you, so it feels a little like having a secret admirer. You find yourself looking at people and wondering who turned you in, and how you can thank them. Warm fuzzy feelings there!

11) We had all new toilets installed
The one downstairs, that I was talked into by a plumber in a moment of duress, prevented the door from opening and had a mysterious duel-flush mechanism that guests could rarely work out without consternation. This is no good in a powder room. The one upstairs, despite having its inner workings gutted by both my husband and I approximately one bajillion times, had a tendency to run. I had phantom toilet-running episodes, where I’d wake up in the middle of the night and have to check. I still find it hard to develop opinions regarding toilets, but doors not opening and running are definitely on my naughty list.

12) For those not following along on Facebook, I finally had to refuel my car
It was almost a full three months, and about 1500 miles. The gas light hadn’t come on, but a snow storm was coming. I added an additive to prevent the gas from freezing, since it might be spring by the time I have to refill it again. It turns out the gas tank is pressurized (probably to prevent water from coming in) and I had to Google how to open the gas tank on a car I’ve owned since it was hot out. With the real charging station, the electric costs have also come way down, to about $20 a month.

What’s going on with you?

Peace & the Second Sunday in Advent

Today is the second Sunday in Advent. The four advent candles, for the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, stand for hope, peace, joy and love. Every week in this season of waiting we light another candle. The world gets a little brighter and we think on these things: what it is to hope, what a hope of peace looks like, how it is to feel joy, and the great love we believe God showed us in becoming human to be one of us.

Candles & LEDS - the oldest and newest light sources
Candles & LEDS – the oldest and newest light sources

This weekend my family prepared ourselves for Christmas. We selected the tree. We brought down the boxes of ornaments. We hung one advent calendar and filled a second one with Hershey’s Kisses. We played The Kingston Trio’s “Last Month of the Year” and Roger Whittaker’s Christmas Album. We told the children the stories of the ornaments as we hung them: the sad stories, the funny stories, the happy stories. We discussed optimal ornament hanging strategies, and enjoyed the new LED lights we got with purple instead of pink making the tree significantly less orangy this year than last year. We watched Scooby Doo in a fit of nostalgia brought on by Thane’s Scooby Doo ornament, and the children were shocked to discover that it is actually pretty good.

Decorator and decoratee
Decorator and decoratee

Our halls decked, Adam and I decamped to my holiday Christmas party where I got to sing on the stage at the House of Blues, which was something I didn’t know was on my bucket list until I was standing under the bright lights singing.

All dressed up with somewhere to go
All dressed up with somewhere to go

I love this time of year so much. And I think what I love most about it is that it’s a joyous contradiction. It’s the season of lights, but instead of bright 100 watt bulbs we light our homes with, with have tiny 13 lumen candleflames. It’s the season of warmth as we turn up collars and look to the first snow-commute-disaster of the year. (Tomorrow, according to one report I read!) It’s a time busy with parties and cookies and cards and caroling and…. but it’s also a time of year when we slow down a little. We sit a little and look at the lights. This year I’m feeling the magic of the season in full force. Perhaps it’s because this year for the first time my children are full collaborators in the creation and appreciation of the time apart. We shall see.

Peace is a rare commodity in this world. The world keeps throwing up sorrows. Just this week, one of my friends was dead for two hours when his heart stopped Thanksgiving night. And blocks from my work, in the blink of an eye sixty people became homeless as their Christmas trees went up in a grand conflagration. In Aleppo, the last voices of the crushed citizens are going silent. Where is the peace? And if I find it in the walls of my own house, with my family and my tree and my Christmas music, well… should I? What right do I have to peace when so many live without it?

But then we come back to that first candle. I still cannot believe that despite two hours without a pulse, my friend was saved. (He just posted a hilarious status update “In my defense, I was dead at the time.”) Through a miracle past knowing, no one was killed or seriously injured in a fire that called firefighters from 20 neighboring towns. There’s no silver lining for Aleppo, but there is a sliver of hope at Standing Rock, where the Army Corps has decided to find a safer route.

The peace we have comes from the hope, not from the existing perfection. And we look forward to joy – the rarest of emotions – and to love, the foundation stone for our lives.

Christmas in a troubled time

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

We have seen a great light
We have seen a great light

Growing up in the 90s set my expectations unrealistically with regard to how much tumult and warfare I might expect during my life. There was this brief shining moment where we hand only a few small combats going on – and those seemed from my privileged perspective to be minor and easily resolved. The economy was good, feminism was working, the Cold War had been won, we weren’t talking about racism (it seemed like a problem of the past) and we’d finally found a way to treat AIDS. Clearly everything was only going to get better from there on out!

I think I know the day I lost my innocence about that. I was in the car, driving to a special youth symphony rehearsal on the streets of Tacoma. I had NPR on, as I always did. I think both Car Talk and Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me had wrapped up for the day. (I liked to joke I was getting my NPR PHD.) I was 17. And there was a breaking bulletin that Yitzhak Rabin had been assassinated. Because I followed the news so closely and diligently I knew what that meant for the Oslo Peace accords. I – like so many others – originally assumed it was Palestinian terrorists. I still don’t understand why someone hated peace so much they’d kill their own leader. That moment both broke my heart and shattered my illusions about how the world was trending. It’s telling (to me at least) that it’s the moment where I remember where I was.

This time of year is one of my favorite times. I slow down from the insanity of my Fall and drink deeply of the music, the lights, the decorations, the crazy traditions we didn’t realize would become traditions the first time we did them. I look through a year’s worth of happy moments recorded on camera. I write my Christmas cards – each one a breath of prayer for the beloved person who will receive it (incanted several times as I address, write and prepare the cards). I buy too much stuff for my kids, and cuddle with my husband on the couch while we argue about whether the Kingston Trio’s “Last Month of the Year” or Roger Whittaker’s Christmas Album is superior. (Duh – obvious answer there!)

But this year I have had more trouble than usual finding my Christmas zen. When it seems as though I might just slip into the joy of the season, there’s a bombing, a shooting, a story of refugees. We are deep into the volume of violence and war that seemed to start that November day in 1995. My spirit feels dry, my back hurts, and I can’t help but think that my sons will have a less innocent innocence than I got in my childhood. We never had an active shooter drill in our school. But Grey is the same age as the children gunned down in Sandy Hook who never got to walk to school by themselves.

As I was thinking through this depressing litany (which I’ve now shared with you – you’re welcome), I wondered if I was depressed. You know, the whole “usual activities bring you less pleasure”. Having carefully considered the question – I’m pretty sure I’m not. I’m just pretty sure that this is a time where a responsibly informed person can reasonably feel pretty bummed on a regular basis.

I was reading my usual list of advice columnists today, and there were two different letters from people saying that they were having a hard time enjoying life with all the suffering that was going on. That’s truly a pity – all our challenges included we have the highest standard of living for the most people that’s ever existed in the history of our species. I wonder if we’re designed to hope in adversity and worry in plenty. I know some people take social media holidays to hide from the onslaught – but I love the people I interact with every day on my many social media channels.

What can counter the malaise of being responsibly informed? One of the advice columnists recommended service to others. I think that’s a wise response. I also think that active gratitude can help. It really is hard to stay blue while you write your Christmas letters to the people you love. I have a hunch that exercise would really help me (I swear my butt hurts from too much sitting – yet all the things I really want to do involve sitting and most of them involve a computer).

Are you finding this true for yourself? Is this year harder to find the joy in? Is this just because I’m getting older and losing my sense of wonder? How do you push past trauma and horror and incivility and unkindness and find light and warmth and joy in the darkness? Where do you lift your eyes to see the light?