Monday, December 29, 2008

A Christmas Miracle

A few weeks ago when my grandmother was staying at my mother's house, she called me one afternoon. She had found a book crammed into the various assortment lining my mother's living room shelves: Life is a Fulfilling: The Story of a Mormon Pioneer Woman, Sarah Diantha Curtis and Her Part in the Colonization of the San Pedro Valley in Southern Arizona, the Homeland of the Powerful, Antagonistic Apache. Now that's a mouthful. Printed in 1967 by BYU University Press, this book tells the story of Grandad's grandmother's family, written by his grandmother's sister's daughter.

GranNomi asked me to help her find another copy of the book--she didn't have one and she hoped to possibly find one for each of her children. Because it was out of print, that became a little difficult.

I forgot all about the book until I was home last week and happened to see it on the bookshelf. Sure enough, it's an old school family memoir, obviously with a small printing intended mostly for family. I checked it out on and found a used copy at a bookstore in St. George, Utah. I ordered it and had it shipped to GranNomi in Southern California, where she is staying with her sister for Christmas.

The book arrived unexpectedly today. She opened it, a bit curious about what would be sent to her at that address. What a surprise to find this out of print book--but even more, to open the cover, and see in her very own handwriting, her attribution to her husband, Harold Goodman.

I guess a few years ago GranNomi had wanted to loan it to my uncle Steve and she took it with her to my cousin Shawn's doctoral graduation. Somehow the book was lost and she never thought she'd see it again. Fast forward a bunch of years--Grandad has died; GranNomi has bounced around a little bit between Missouri, Utah, and California; Uncle Steve and cousins Shawn and Amy have all moved various times; and somehow this book ends up at a secondhand bookstore in St. George, Utah. When I think about it, the description on the bookseller site even mentioned something about the name of the owner inscribed inside the cover.I still think it's Grandad's way of saying he's hanging around--that we can't get rid of him that easily--that he's just trying to put things in their proper order and take care of us. Thank goodness.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Snow on Snow on Snow

For some strange reason, I've had the words to "In the Bleak Midwinter" running through my mind. Ok--really just the first line, and then I had to go look up the rest so I could figure out why in the world such a bleak song became a popular though slightly haunting Christmas song by Christina Rosetti:
In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen,
Snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.
I love that line--snow on snow, snow on snow. I experienced that firsthand in Utah last week. I swear it snowed every single day. Part of me loved it--the part where I was safely ensconced in my mother's safe blue house, watching the snow fall, busying myself with last-minute Christmas preparations (I made a LOT of aprons and little sock creatures over the past couple of weeks). I loved feeling gently covered and safe.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him,
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign;
In the bleak midwinter
A stable place sufficed
The Lord God incarnate,
Jesus Christ.
But then there's the flip side to snow. I do not love the ice and slush and danger and fear of sliding and losing control on the road. I regret the dirty mess that follows the morning after. And I loathe the vulnerability of exposure and cold.So I guess really it's a love-hate relationship. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. What you burrow through becomes your backbone. Right?

We embraced the snow. Well--my brothers always do--I love watching their delight in skiing the powder. This time, though, we took my mom cross country skiing for her first time. We took Josh's Jill's dad with us. The fresh air was invigorating, and after an initial "incident" (think of Deb's experience on Y Mountain... nothing else will be said), I felt alive. The bright white, the crisp air, the green pines and exposed rough bark of the aspen, the tracks of the snowmobiles--they all filled me. We had a great time--Ben and Josh always make me laugh. My mom loved the experience.
Enough for him, whom Cherubim
Worship night and day
A breast full of milk
And a manger full of hay.
Enough for him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
which adore.
Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But his mother only,
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.
I gave in to the snow. I exposed myself to it. I protected myself against it and I drove in it (of course I had to drive my brother's girlfriend's car on unplowed freeways to leave at the airport, and then the car window got stuck down with all her life's possessions in the car and a swirling snowstorm and three feet of snow in the economy lot). Snow on snow, snow on snow--you roll with it and play in it and drive in it and live in it. It covers you and warms you at the same time it freezes and fights.
What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him —
Give my heart.
P.S. Back in DC, 70 degrees yesterday, nary a flake in sight...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Neck and Neck

So this is an old story, but I thought these pictures were grand. Very telling.

I refuse to be a sucker and actually buy pictures of myself during a race. I always smile as I run past the cameras along the route, but then when I actually get the email with pictures, I'm a tiny bit repulsed by my sweaty, tired-looking self. Not cute. And not anything I particularly want to remember. But I couldn't help but capture these ones (note that my free screenshot program expired so I decided to take a picture of my computer screen... nerdy, I know) because put together they tell a grand story.

During the Richmond marathon, I ran past a whole bunch of cameras, and I smiled and tried to look strong at every one. Well, the only pictures they captured with me and my identifying number were at the very end. This first one was probably mile 25. I was so tired. Spent. Done. Resigned to walking across the finish line.But then that finish line flourish kicked in at the very last minute possible. I ran like the wind with all my might. And I totally beat this guy. The picture doesn't lie. Check it out.

Monday, December 15, 2008

"I am for you"

I'll be honest. It's been tough this holiday season. I didn't think I'd be where I am right now, and everywhere I turn, every day I have floods of memories of a particularly fulfilling season last year which just did not pan out like I thought it might. I have dreaded going home to Utah, greeted by people who love me and want the best for me and have so many questions for me. I just don't want to face it. Any of it.

But face it I will, because I'm that kind of gal. Don't get me wrong--I'm no Scrooge. I love the lights and music and celebration of Christmas and I've tried to partake freely and fully this year. Last night I had a bunch of friends over for dinner before the annual "Christmas in Alexandria" concert. I made four different soups (oh my! Mexican pork, Italian sausage, chicken tortilla, and tomato bisque! what delight!) and we talked and ate and listened to delightful music (you simply cannot go wrong with a bell choir, brass, and an organ, now, can you?!).

On Saturday sweet Wendy took me to a wonderfully rich Christmas concert at the National Cathedral. With Stacie and Dave, we imbibed of the Cathedral Choral Society and the Madrigal Singers of St. Albans and National Cathedral Schools. Their harmonies, along with the Advent candles, the stained glass window, and the sacred awe of a cathedral warmed my heart. I loved the music--some of it fifteenth-century, some of it twenty-first century, all of it proclaiming the glory of Christ and His birth and life. Latin, Old Church Slavonic, English, middle English--the tongues blended in harmony and light.

My favorite piece was "Before the world began," a contemporary work by John Bell, a leader of an ecumenical Christian community in a restored Benedictine abbey on a tiny Hebridean island off the west coast of Scotland. The last line of each stanza struck me with incredible force: "I am for you."

Before the world began one Word was there;
Grounded in God he was rooted in care;
By him all things were made,
In him was love displayed;
Through him God spoke, and said, "I am for you."

Life found in him its source, death found its end.
Light found in him its course, darkness its friend.
For neither death nor doubt
Nor darkness can put out
The glow of God, the shout, "I am for you."

The Word was in the world which from him came;
Unrecognized he was, unknown by name;
One with all humankind,
With the unloved aligned,
Convincing sight and mind, "I am for you."

All who received the Word by God were blessed;
Sisters and brothers they of the earth's fond guest.
So did the Word of Grace
Proclaim in time and space
And with a human face, "I am for you."

I love that. I am for you. He is for me. I find that in the arms and love of dear friends. I find it in a sweet email from the great missionary couple I met in Harlem four years ago. I felt it last night when I took leftover soup and some blankets to my dear African friend and read over his final before he submitted it. I see it when I read stories such as this about serving in Iraq. I believe in life and light and healing and love and hope. I believe in courage.

I am for you.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Festival of Lights

Last week my friend Hope was in town for a conference. Hope comes from the thriving metropolis (I don't think there's even one stoplight) of Duncan, Arizona, childhood home of my grandparents and the location of some delightful childhood summer trips to visit Granna on the farm. Hope was my roommate in Arizona and it's been great to reconnect with her. We've had some great memories of the good old days.We headed over to the temple to help out with the Festival of Lights. I always love the temple at Christmas--the lights and color add a new depth and meaning to the whole temple experience. I loved greeting the diplomats and their families, learning about their countries, and answering questions. We met people from the Philippines, Lithuania, Bahamas, Greece, Japan, Bulgaria, and saw people of all colors and backgrounds.
There was a beautiful program--the Mormon Choir sang, Elder Neil Anderson spoke (see a version of his great story of Christmas in France here), the kids came up and sang and rang jingle bells, and the lights went on with grand ceremony. I loved the excitement, the sense of sharing culture and spirit, and the feeling of Christmas.This is one of my absolute favorite events in DC at Christmas. Thanks to Ms. Earl, the event planner extraordinaire. One day I want to be like her.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Gee's Bend

Last week I went up to Philadelphia for the grandmammy of all quilt exhibits. I had heard of these quilts and even had the postage stamps (I loved the bright colors and of course the quilt theme), and I knew something about the general "look" of a Gee's Bend quilt, but I was exposed to a whole new community.Gee's Bend is a small community nestled in the bend of the Alabama River. Founded in the antebellum era, the land was the site of cotton plantations. After the Civil War, the freed slaves became tenant farmers, creating an all-black community nearly isolated from the rest of Alabama.The town's women quilted to keep their families warm. They developed a distinctive, bold style of quilting based on traditional American and African American quilts, with a geometric simplicity similar to Amish quilts and modern art. They often sold quilts to contribute to the family income, some of them even doing piecework for Sears Roebuck in the 1970s.In 2002, the Gee's Bend quilts were "discovered," and the Museum of Art in Houston produced an exhibition. Since then, the popularity of the quilts has increased immensely and has provided a renown and income to this low-class community, allowing them to travel on their exhibition circuits and build additions to their small homes to allow for more quilting space. Books, photographs, tours, and yes, even postage stamps, have commemorated the creations of these hard-working women.
A few of my favorite parts of these quilts:
  • These women used what they had. Most quilts were made from old clothes--I saw worn out legs from jeans and football jerseys. One woman even made a quilt from one of those pre-printed fabric pieces to make stuffed turkeys and teddy bears. One quilt included pieces of an old shirt its maker found stuck in the mud. She scrubbed and bleached the fabric and found it perfect for her quilt. A whole room contained quilts made from the courduroy scraps of pillows made for Sears in the 1970s. The rich colors--avacado, gold, brown, royal blue--were striking and the textures were rich. I loved the faded resourcefulness--of course--the means of creating beauty from the scraps of what they had.
  • They created their own designs from what they saw. One room had quilts based on the same design--a house block--as if you were looking down at a neighborhood of houses on a street. One even looked like it had the winding bend of red Alabame river clay. One looked exactly like what it must have looked like to lay down on the floor of an old barn and look up through the holes in the roof to the sky. The stripes and lines were exactly reminiscent of their old barns and houses, and the circles and shapes looked just like the patterns of the leaves and flowers outside their windows. They found beauty in the natural patterns around them--even if it just looked like a ramshackle pile of old boards and junk. Incredible. Beautiful.
  • These women were NOT symmetrical. They did not fit into the neat, ordered, straight lines we generally think of when we think of quilts and design. Oh--they were neat and ordered and straight, but not by a strict ruler. They wandered and used up what they had, then added other pieces to finish up the design. But they were real. And they followed the designs in their head and on their scraps of paper, not the patterns to which I find myself attached, trying desperately to make the ends fit. And every single one of these quilts was beautiful and unique.
  • There was an actual sense of community hanging on those museum walls. The labels identified who made which quilt, and you could see family names stretching around the rooms. Not only could you see names, but you could see strains of family design, of family fabric, of hands helping quilt. Photographs demonstrated how women would hang quilts out on their fences, and then wandering through the neighborhood, one could take note of another's pattern and fabric, taking notes and sharing. One quilting pattern indicated an arc--you could tell that the women sewed as far as their arms could reach until their stitches met the next woman over. Grandmothers, mothers, daughters, daughters-in-law, sisters-in-law, neighbors, friends--they also often sang together as they quilted. A video highlighted their pentecostal atonal singing. As they fingered their fabrics, their notes melded together in praise and support.
  • Since their "discovery," these women have formed a quilting cooperative, allowing the women to market and sell their quilts to a larger audience than their Alabama neighborhoods. Suddenly their handwork has enabled these women to become women of property, to manage their lives and to contribute to a highly demanding art world. They are acknowledged and appreciated and valued. And they still live in their tiny ramshackle houses and try to make do, caring for their families and piecing together remnants and used clothing into their quilts.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas at Eastern Market

Last Saturday JJ, Sue and I breakfasted at Eastern Market. Blueberry french toast, buttermilk pancakes, potatoes, and bacon... not a bad way to start the day!We wandered among the Christmas trees, antiques, jewelry, and artwork of one of my favorite farmers' markets and flea markets ever. It was bitter cold.We also stopped by the Norwegian festival at Union Station with a whole lot of fancy sweaters, some chocolate, and a fantastic Christmas tree. Man, I love this city this time of year!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Finally... Thanksgiving

So I'm a little late. And it's not like I've been studying for my oral exams. Done and done. No, I've been sick and then I had one last class (and two last books and one last paper) and a quick trip to Philly (fantastic quilt exhibit), not to mention some big changes in my work assignment (glory, hallelujah!). Here are a few pictures and adventures from my Thanksgiving week in Colorado.
I spent a few days in Aurora with Lisa and her family. Good times with Baby Lukie and Savannah while Grant & Sierra were at school. I even helped Sierra make a family culture poster and went to Grant's soccer game.On to Winter Park with the whole rest of the family. Unfortunately, by this point, all the germs of the past six months had caught up with me and I came down with a cold. Plus, because I'm single and generally flexible, so I got to sleep on the laundry room floor (anyone seen Dan in Real Life? Seriously, people... enough to make anyone grouchy. Why does being married qualify you for a bed?!?). But cards and food are always a good bet. And the mountains. Oh the mountains and the snow (let me tell you about driving down!).But the winner of them all has to be that baby. Sheesh. I'd do anything for him. And bless my sister who let me hold him even with my cold. I love his big eyes and I love his easy-going nature. I love how much Savannah loves him.I can't get enough...