Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Almost Not Quite Enough Snow

Cross country skiing in Central New York is a challenge at times. Winter doesn’t seem as cold or snowy as I recall from my youth when it seemed like the snow fell near Thanksgiving time and remained until spring brought relief. I’ve learned these last few years, that you need to take your opportunities when they come, since if you wait until the weekend, say, the snow might be gone, melted away by winter rains.

Yesterday morning Heather and I dressed in layers of outdoor clothing, loaded the skis in the back of the Subaru and drove to the nature trail behind the college. We strapped on our skis and optimistically set out. Quickly we realized two things. 1) There’s almost not quite enough snow for cross country skiing. 2) They’ve added gravel to the trails instead of more small cinders, making for some stony places where the snow is especially thin. Put the two things together, and it was not the best skiing experience. We’d be striding along, then abruptly, though briefly, be halted by a rock hitting one ski. Almost enough to make your forward momentum tumble you over, but not quite.  (Well, Heather fell once going down a slope, but the camera was in the case so I didn't capture that on film!  And I went a different way - there's a benefit to following in someone else's ski tracks.)

Nonetheless, it is lovely in that oasis of nature just off the bustle of the commerce of Grant Avenue. The shrubs were covered in layers of snow where they are protected from the wind. We saw deer tracks and bird tracks amid the human and dog prints. We seemed to be the first skiers, and didn’t see snowshoe tracks, as I’ve noticed in years past. We looked for dried milkweed to pick for craft projects; I had a plastic bag in my pocket and a small knife in case they were resistant to hand picking. No luck – makes me think I should have picked some when I was at the wildlife refuge a month ago, but I hesitated to “take anything but pictures” in that protected place. (I guess my rule keeping doesn’t extend to the college property somehow.)

We made our way around the loop a couple times, and returned home,
ready for tea and a Christmas cookie after we changed out of our outdoor clothes. Both of us were a bit warm and had slightly overdressed for the exertion of skiing. Hopefully, we’ve left the skis and poles in the back of the car. I see snowflakes falling right now, so maybe another inch of snow has buried the gravel a bit deeper – making for a more pleasant excursion today and tomorrow before the weatherman’s prediction of rain for Christmas comes true. We’d better get dressed and go out this morning, saving the last of the cookie baking until later. Don’t want to miss the promise of just enough snow for skiing.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Blessed to Be a Blessing

Thursday’s blessing was ringing the bell for the Salvation Army with Barb from church. A month ago at the Outreach Committee meeting she offered to arrange a time and we settled on a Thursday night. We didn’t realize it would be 10 degrees and we’d be standing outside – I mean outdoors outside of Bass Pro Shops. I had gathered as much wool clothing as I possessed, and layered it over Cuddle Duds long underwear. It worked, mostly.

Barb’s an assertive Salvation Army bell ringer, cheerily wishing people – arriving or leaving – “Merry Christmas!” That little touch told them they were seen, (hunching their faces down inside their collars for warmth and anonymity didn’t work) and quite often prompted them to dig out some change or even a few dollars. It was bitterly cold and I was amazed by how people – presumably residents of central New York and accustomed to this sort of weather – were dressed. Not only them, but their little children – I saw a lot of mittenless hands, and one guy sauntered up wearing a T Shirt and jeans. Blessedly, there was no wind. A few flakes of snow fell at times and one little tyke stuck out his tongue to catch them.

Many families urged coins on their kids so they could slide them into the famous red kettle. One lady said she had the habit of putting a dollar in every kettle she passed during the holidays, and she’s pleased to see her grown sons do the same. She might have been the woman who went all the way out to her car and returned with money. One woman turned as she left the sidewalk, digging out her purse, pulling out her wallet, and saying, “These days when you pay by debit card, you don’t have change.” Interesting observation on this modern age, I thought. I heard on the radio this month that some Salvation Army kettles in other cities are experimenting with swipe cards for credit or debit donations. Whatever it takes, I guess. As my toes chilled, (despite two layers of wool socks and my felt lined LL Bean boots) and my thumbs got cold, (despite gloves inside a pair of mittens) I thought of the homeless, the hungry, those who can’t heat their homes, and others who will be helped by gifts collected in the red kettle that night. I’m going to write a check and mail it to the Salvation Army. I’m blessed by God – to be a blessing.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Choosing an Outfit

A recent blessing was pulling clothes out of my closet, searching for just the right combination for a Christmas outfit.  I was looking for exactly the right mix of clothes that would be a) warm enough, b) not too warm, c) festive, d) comfortable, and d) modest.  I settled on a nearly floor length black skirt and a red jacket over a sleeveless black top.  I'm going to wear a locket with enameled red and green designs that I remember my father-in-law giving to my mother-in-law the year our daughter was born - inside is a sweet picture of our one month old daughter dressed in her first red Christmas dress. Barbara gave the locket to me a few years ago, thinking I might enjoy it.  When I told my coworker about my outfit to wear to the prison for our Christmas celebration next week, we both chuckled.  Who would have thought I'd so carefully pick clothing to wear inside a prison!?!

But seriously - we're going to set aside our typical Bible Study, and celebrate Christmas with the guys.  The volunteers are going to dress up - like we would for Christmas Eve services (no jeans and T-shirts on this night!)  Paul's even searching for just the right Christmas necktie.  We'll be celebrating Holy Commuion, served by our volunteer who was ordained as an Elder in the United Methodist Church this year, and is no longer restricted as to where she can serve Communion.  She's bringing a service of lessons and carols, so we'll read the Christmas story from the Scriptures and sing Christmas carols.  I have some mini candycanes to distribute along with a poem about the symbolism behind the colors and the stripes. 

 Our preparations for celebrating Christmas in the prison make me examine my preparations for celebrating the holy day in my own family.  Will I make careful choices about what to wear, what to eat, what to do?  Those choices determine the blessings I'll receive for Christmas this year.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

He Loves Me

At their 50th wedding anniversary, my father joked that he and Mom had been “happily married for 35 years, and that’s not bad out of 50!” A couple goes through ups and downs in their marriage, and anyone who thinks all the years are going to be happy probably hasn’t made it 50 years. Or 34. Paul and I’ve been married 34 years and to be quite honest, at times I’ve not always been the happiest married person alive. Neither, I’m sure, has he.

Yesterday he bought our Christmas tree from Freedom Recreation Services. We like to support their program and we get a Christmas tree that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg while supporting a good cause. The trees are never perfect and sometimes they more closely resemble a Charlie Brown tree than not. There was the year with the 3 tops – Paul had to clip two of them off so the tree topper could be placed. And the year where it was so tall and spindly that the branches near the trunk created a perfect cat ladder – our kids woke us up one morning yelling, “Sandy’s climbing the Christmas tree!” We raced down the stairs to see the kids bravely hanging on so the tree wouldn’t crash onto the floor, while our cat clung wild-eyed near the top. Paul wired it to the window locks in the bay window so if he made the climb again at least it wouldn’t tip over.

Yesterday I went and took a nap while he hauled the tree inside and put on the strings of tiny white lights. When I got up from napping, he was still working on the lights. Not that they were tangled, or broken or bulbs needed replacing. Patiently, he was wiring each candle of four strings of special candle lights onto individual branches. I had admired these special lights some years ago and one Christmas morning he got up early and secretly added the lights to our already trimmed tree. It was a wonderful surprise and each year since, he’s repeated the process (not early Christmas morning – usually on a Saturday afternoon!) First the regular lights, and next the candle lights. It literally takes him hours. Yesterday I admired the lights he grinned, “And why do I do it?” I smiled and responded, “Because you love me.” Yesterday’s blessing is that through the ups and downs of marriage and life, I have a husband who loves me, and I know it. I am blessed!