Merry and bright

As another Christmas draws to a close, it’s finally quiet enough in the house that I can hear myself think long enough to write something. We’ve had a busy week with a lot going on for everyone. Here’s the news, in four parts.

First, an update on my dog. He had to go to the emergency vet four times this week and ended up having to take four different medications to help his face, but finally he turned the corner and is on his way back to normal.

Here’s how his face looked on Friday night, after I clipped his beard off to help visualize the muzzle and keep it clean:

rudy-muzzle

Here’s how it looked Monday night with drier skin and significantly reduced swelling:

rudy-better

I gave him a bath today and washed off some of the scabbing around his mouth. He still has a course of antibiotics and steroids to finish, but he should be fine in a few more days. He’s always been a remarkably healthy dog in the time I’ve had him, so this has been quite an ordeal for both of us.

Second, my sister and her family came to visit from Friday through Monday, and we had a nice low-key Christmas celebration on Sunday night before they had to get home for work commitments. I woke up early Sunday morning and fully appreciated the fact that everyone I love most was under one roof at that moment: my dogs under the covers beside me, my parents down the hall, my sister’s family upstairs. It warmed my heart.

Third, my mother’s recovery has advanced by leaps and bounds since I last saw her in September. At that time, when she first got out of rehab, I helped her take her first shower at home, which took a good 45 minutes and had me sweaty and aching from the exertion of doing most of the work for her. Now, I just help her onto the shower chair and pull off her shoes (although she doesn’t even need help with the shoes, really), and she takes it from there with no assistance at all from me. She’s in and out of the tub in about 10 minutes. She does let me dry her hair afterward because I want to do that, but otherwise she’s recovered a lot of her independence in the bathroom. Also, she can walk a short distance using only a cane now, and we’re hopeful that she will be out of the wheelchair all together in another month or two. Here she is practicing unassisted standing on a foam mat to help fine-tune her balance.

standing-up

Go, mama, go!

And finally, some parting thoughts on Christmas …

It occurred to me a few days ago as I was making yet another trip to the grocery store and listening to Christmas carols on the car radio, that for most of us, one day is much like the next no matter what the calendar says. So if you want to have a merry and bright and blessed and happy holiday season or Christmas (as all the carols and ad jingles exhort us to have), the best way to do so is to cultivate a merry and bright and blessed and happy life the other 364 days of the year. How you do anything is how you do everything, and it’s hard to bring to the holidays what you don’t have in everyday life.

So my wish for all of you is that you might enjoy the blessings of the Christmas season—peace, goodwill, generosity of spirit—all through the year. May all your days be merry and bright.

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The magic of the mouse

I had dinner with a good friend of mine last night, and she filled me in on her plans for Christmas that are so cool and so fun and so exciting, I want to tell you all about them!

She and her husband have two kids, a preschooler and a toddler. For the past several months, both kids have been periodically asking, “when are we going to Mickey’s house?” meaning Disneyland. They are both big, big fans of the mouse.

So what my friend and her family are going to do on Christmas morning this year is get up early and open their presents (which might include a Mickey-themed item or two), then have breakfast (which might be Mickey-shaped pancakes), while the parents gently and subtly cue the kids until one or the other of them asks for the thousandth time, “when are we going to Mickey’s house?”

And then Mom and Dad are going to exchange a triumphant glance over the tops of their children’s heads before gleefully asking, “how about right now? Go get packed, we’re going today!” And at 2:00 that afternoon, the whole family will board a plane headed to Anaheim and visit with Mickey for a week.

mickey-christmas

I tell you what, I think that’s such a cool plan, I’m as stoked about it as if I were one of their kids. What could be better for a young child than to have a long-delayed dream instantly manifest one day? That is parenting at its finest, and my hat is off to my friend and her husband for planning this wonderful surprise and gift for their family.

Since I (ahem) won’t be going along, I might instead catch an early showing of the movie “Saving Mr. Banks,” opening Dec. 20, which stars Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as P. L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins. It looks like a delightful tour de force from two of the finest actors on the screen today. So, you know, that’s almost as good as a surprise trip to Disneyland on Christmas morning. Almost. 😉

Take a look at the trailer. I bet you’ll want to see this movie, too.

The reason for the season

I am not dogmatic about my religious beliefs, and I have long recognized that what we call Christmas is an amalgam of traditions and practices from several different cultures and belief systems (or religions, if you prefer). The Christian church was quite masterful about co-opting the holidays and rituals of others to create official holidays to, perhaps, allow people of widely varying beliefs to celebrate together under the church’s watchful eye.

Even with this in mind, today’s Bizarro cartoon really struck me as a profound statement about the two central figures in all Christmas lore: Jesus and Santa Claus.

nativity-santa

The juxtaposition of icons, Mary’s choice of wording (“in god’s name”), the impersonal assistant going through the motions, the scowling donkey, Santa’s imploring pose. It really made me think about the symbols we associate with this holiday and how our beliefs create the meaning it holds for us. Do you feel sorry for Santa, who is both unrecognized and rejected? Or do you perceive him as a commercially motivated interloper in this sacred scene? There are no right or wrong answers. Everyone will see something slightly different in this panel.

As for me, the reason for the season is to draw close to those we love and celebrate our connections to and our affections for one another. It is a time of renewal and rebirth, and a time to reflect on where we’ve been as well as where we’re going. It is a time for generosity, for kindness, and for grace. I don’t think it matters who gets the credit for this, Jesus or Santa. What does matter is what we hold in our hearts at Christmas and throughout the year.

Home for the holidays

We drove all day, most of it over and through snow, a lot of it in the dark, but arrived safely tonight at my parents’ house to spend the holiday week. My sister and her family are here too, so we are ready to do the full-tilt boogie Christmas thing!

christmas-boogie

I feel very blessed that I can come home to be with my family every year. We have our ups and downs, as all families do, but we always have fun together, too. With any luck, I’ll have some great pictures and stories to share with you this week.

Singularly unimpressive

I posted on Facebook last week that one of my “bucket list” items is to see a flash mob performance, and a friend promptly informed me that one was to take place at our local mall this evening.

omg_excited

Color me stoked! I could hardly wait to go see it!

So I waded into the fray of weekend+holiday=HELL traffic out to the mall, arriving in plenty of time to take a turn around the shops. By the time I came back to where the event was to take place, people were lined up three and four deep all around the railings on the second level overlooking the center court area. Uniformed mall security guards were posted on every stairway looking very stern. It seemed as if everyone was waving a cellphone in the air taking crappy videos.

The singing started right on time, and the instigators appeared to be two different groups of about four people each. They sang one verse each from four familiar songs, and that was it. Over and done in less than a minute. Apparently everybody came to watch, and almost nobody (including, ahem, me) came to sing. It was the most underwhelming public performance of any kind I’ve ever seen. I almost felt bad for being there.

disappointed

OMG DISAPPOINTED

I wonder why it went so poorly? Certainly it was well attended, and the mall management didn’t interfere except to make sure people didn’t overload the stairways. The songs were well known, so there was no reason for spectators not to join in. But I have to say, as much as I hated to think so, I looked around at that huge crowd and those uniformed guards and I wondered if we were all just sitting ducks for yet another lunatic with a gun looking to get his name in the news. Perhaps a lot of other people there were thinking the same. It’s hard to lift your voice in praise and hope and joy with visions of the past week’s events in your head.

This is what I had hoped it would be like:

Maybe next year.

In the meantime, I am keeping this item on my bucket list because I still want to catch a “real” flash mob performance by chance someday. I want to be surprised and uplifted by something beautiful that happens when I least expect it. I want that for all of us.

This is harder than it looks

I’m working on some Christmas-themed photos for my portfolio, starting with a couple of ornaments I picked up on sale a couple of weeks ago. How hard could it be to photograph a single ornament, right?

Well, I’ve been trying to take this one’s picture … actually, I have been taking its picture … nearly every day since. I’ve tried incandescent light, studio lights, filtered daylight, direct sunlight, flash, and every combination of those that I could think of. I fooled with ISO, aperture, white balance, and exposure compensation. I have shot nearly 200 frames and finally, finally! got one that I’m reasonably happy with tonight.

Santa ornament

It doesn’t really look that complex, does it? Heh. Perhaps you might think, as I once did, that product photography is a cinch because the subjects don’t move. No, but they do present the same challenges as most other photographic subjects: wide variation in light and dark areas, reflective surfaces, irregular edges that defy clipping, and of course three dimensions that make it tricky to get both the front edge and the back edge of a fat little ornament in sharp focus.

I haven’t hit the bulls-eye on this one yet but I got as close as I think I can. For now. As my technique and equipment improve, I will revisit this subject to see if I can’t capture a yet more perfect likeness of it. In the meantime, I am happy to move on to other subjects that I hope will be more cooperative!