Thursday, December 31, 2009

christmas is confounding

I have to confess, Christmas confounds and disturbs me.

Not the excess, though that is troubling enough - eating until we are more than full; giving and receiving of gifts that are just so much stuff no one really needs (and, too often, don't even want); crackers filled with lame jokes and lamer pieces of plastic we only throw away; wrapping, wrapping and more wrapping; cards; trees; lights; wreaths; candy cane; sleighs; santa hats; elf outfits; lollies... the stuff of Christmas out of context and out of control.

Family joy and love are also the stuff of Christmas, unmissable in every advertisement, enticing us to buy with their feel good tableau and enchanting music. Well, they are the stuff of Christmas in a few select families, while the rest of us slog it out around tense tables laden with misapprehension and disappointment, ably accompanied by the ghosts of conversations past, and those feel-good-Christmas models who make us wish we could be just like the advertisements. This too is disturbing, but still not the main cause of my Christmas angst.

At this point I should possibly admit to feeling more than a little repugnance towards the roly-poly, lovely jubbly, ever laughing, slightly nauseating Santa. He is simply everywhere. There is no escape. This year, before visiting classrooms to share the Christmas story, I decided to get the low down on Santa. Fascinating as the story was, it was a little troubling to discover the almost inane origins of the fat man in red - not entirely (as one might expect) based on Saint Nicholas, rather built on a trite little poem penned in 1823, called 'A visit from St Nicholas' or 'Twas the night before Christmas'. From here, all that was beautiful and meaningful about Saint Nicholas was gradually lost in favour of an increasingly rotund Christmas elf who could fit down chimneys and garner adoration from generations of children. Before long, corporations realised the pulling power of this merry man, and soon Santa could be found wooing us all to hand over our hard earned cash. The commercialisation of Christmas was well and truly on its way, to the point that today, companies care more about how much money has passed through their tills than the true spirit of Christmas.

True, this sorry state of Christmas affairs disturbs me, but what bothers me most is the story at the centre of it all. The birth of a boy child to a virgin mother. Preposterous, wouldn't you agree? An angel appears, tells a good girl she will become the mother of the one who will save us all through the work of the Holy Spirit. She is a little scared, but agrees to be part of the big plan, and in nine months, sure enough, she gives birth to a baby boy. What kind of a crazy story is this? Who could believe it? It is, quite simply, beyond the realms of possibility. And this is what gets me about Christmas, because every year I am confronted with the same story, and every year I must choose - believe it or not?

Not that this reckoning and re-examining is a bad thing - it shakes off complacency - but it isn't really comfortable. (And isn't Christmas all about comfort? See above) Rituals and remembering give strength and comfort of their own, I suppose. Certainly for me they offer and opportunity to consider my beliefs and reaffirm them.

So why choose to reaffirm belief in a story that is in many ways beyond belief? I suppose because I see it as part of a bigger story, one in which Jesus offers the way of hope and peace and love. If we truly listened to the message he brought, and followed him in the paths he took, the world would be a different place. (Now is not the time to discuss the blindingly obvious failures of many to truly follow Jesus in the way he wanted) I love the potential for transformation in the way of Jesus, the possibility of revolutionary change, the whisper of hope that could wipe out injustice and pain and tears and death.

Looking at the state of the world right now, the hope, potential, promise found in Jesus seems as impossible as a virgin birth. If I have the courage to choose to believe in one seeming absurdity, can I find it within me to believe in another?

By faith I can.

That is what it all comes down to really. Faith. I can't prove Jesus was born of a virgin. I can't prove he will come back and make this sorry mess of a world new. But I find enough of promise and hope in Jesus' words and actions to believe in what I cannot see. I believe with enough faith to find my way through the mess of our world for another year. Until next Christmas, when I examine it all again.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

i agree

'I believe [there is] a need (deep in every individual) to find an outlet for their creativity - a way to express their individuality and uniqueness that may otherwise be lacking in their daily lives.'

Jenny Springett 'Make Money Selling Craft'

I'm building a plan for next year around this belief... for now though, my latest efforts in creativity.


Friday, December 18, 2009


School's out, so it's one job down, two to go.

I love that 'cross things off the list' feeling as the year draws to a close. One by one, commitments fall away and I feel lighter and lighter. This year it is particularly poignant (for some strange reason, I love that word) as I am resigning from the hospital. I call it my maternity leave without the maternity. Or an early retirement. One way or another, I will find space in 2010.

Well, I might find space in 2010! I have a mental list a mile long of all the things I can fill my time with, starting with listening all day, every day to ABC Radio National. (But don't tell Frank. He's already a bit worried I'll sit around doing nothing with my time. I promised to only have the radio on in the background while I work hard on other things, like cleaning the mould off the weather boards, and weeding the garden)

One of my other dreams is to join a local musical society and start singing again. Since leaving church I've barely sung a note, except when I put Kelly Clarkson on, and then I belt out a few notes at full volume. Of course we're not just talking about a bit part here - I'm going for fame, auditioning for a part. No lowly choir for me.

Why is that? Why do I feel the need for a leading role? Why can't I just settle for a place in the choir?

I suppose because we live in a celebrity culture. It's not enough to enjoy myself singing in a group - I want recognition and fame and celebrity and adulation. When I realised this today, I decided I should probably find a little choir in which I can blend and contribute to the whole, rather than stand out in front receiving the glory. Better for my character. More real.

Radio, choirs... I wonder how the year will really turn out. However it goes, I'm really looking forward to it.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

a little bit too much excitement for my liking

'Anything for a story,' I usually say. I love a bit of a drama and never fail to warm to the thrall of people hanging off my every word. Cecily is my name, attention seeking my game, and if I have to ham it up a little for effect, so be it.

This story will not be like that. It is sufficiently exciting on its own that it does not require any embellishment. In fact, for several moments tonight I felt fear, the whole thing was so real and potentially terrible.

It all started with slivered almonds. Or was it the busy evening that did it? I came home from work early enough, but had two events to attend one after the other, starting at 6:30pm. We haven't been eating until 7:30 or later due to the lovely, light evenings, so I was gearing up for an early, quick meal before running out the door. I opted for an easy asian-style chicken salad and was pretty pleased to discover I had slivered almonds after all and could garnish to my heart's content. I sprinkled them onto a tray, added a few sesame seeds to the mix and threw them under the gas grill.

'Don't forget the grill,' I muttered to myself. (I'm always burning nuts and seeds under that thing, but it's so much easier than stirring them all in a dry pan) Of course, I immediately forgot them and sailed out into the next room. I was engrossed in another activity when I heard a bit of a popping and creaking sound...


Running into the kitchen, I was confronted by the tray and its contents, which were well alight. We're talking serious flames fuelled by gas. Eek. 'It's on fire,' I yelled and ran over to turn off the gas.

Nothing happened, so I closed the grill door to cut off oxygen, only to discover a whopping great gap in the seal. That made not a zot of difference.

By that stage Frank had run in and collected the fire extinguisher from under the sink. For some strange reason he ran into the next room to pull the pin out, by which time black smoke was pouring out of the stove and rolling up the walls. At about that moment I realised there was still a gas burner on, merrily cooking two chicken fillets. As I turned them off and began to wonder if this could turn into something very, very bad (do gas stoves and cylinders explode when fire is happening right by them?), Frank ran in, pointed the extinguisher at the base of the flame (ha... that is the correct technique of course, but who would know where he really pointed it) and sprayed.

Incredibly, the fire stopped instantly. Maybe I expected it would die back slowly and whimper a bit before going out, but it was over, just like that. Phew!

Being the blogging queen I am (OK, that was an embellishment), I immediately ran for my camera (strange, sad truth is contained in those words) and collected an image of the smoking mess for posterity:

I may also have invented a new technique in art:

Even with a relatively small fire the clean up was significant. We've vacuumed the dust, wiped smoke off walls and aired the house, but the smell still lingers and I keep finding tiny bits of ash on surfaces all over the place. I suspect the cleaning will continue for some time.

There was one other small issue - what to do with the chicken. I had my heart pretty well set on asian-style chicken, and that's hard to do without chicken. The slivered almonds and sesame seeds were lost. Could I get by without the chicken... and is it OK to eat food that has experienced a little, ah, dry powder extinguisher contamination?

We tried to phone the firies, but without resorting to 000 (which was now completely unnecessary, unless they offer a cleaning service, which I'm pretty sure they don't), no one would answer the phone outside of business hours. Next we called a friend of a friend who works as a fireman. No reply. Google 'what chemicals are in dry powder fire extinguishers': not very useful information. 'centrimax 70' was next and, bingo, most of the powders used in fire extinguishers are fairly innocuous. The powder used in ours was mostly likely mono ammonium phosphate, a fairly harmless chemical approved as a food additive. So we ate the chicken. As simple as that.

Perhaps I should call this post 'how not to cook tea'? One thing is for sure, I'll be getting that extinguisher refilled quick smart, buying a fire blanket just in case, and replacing the battery in the smoke detector. A little too close for comfort that one!