Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Thoughts/New Beginnings

Today is the last day of my Christmas break and my only true day off. It is barely a day off since I am doing laundry before the new work week begins. A little bit of time has also been spent helping my wife gathering up Christmas decorations for the most depressing aspect of Christmas which is putting in all back in the crates for transport to my storage shed. My family and I were very blessed this year. My wife did a wonderful job of magically giving everyone what they wanted, what they forgot they wanted, and what they didn't realize they needed. My granddaughter exclaimed, "Christmas is a happy time". I took Christmas Eve off from work so I was able to sleep in and have plenty of time to get everything together for the Christmas Eve tour. We began at my mother's house where most of my brothers and sisters and other family members gathered. In a quiet moment I thought of my Dad. This was the first Christmas since his death. Still, it was a happy night. I am part of a very large extended family. Like all families there are many personalities but we get along remarkably well. It is the same on my wife's side of the family. We are blessed to be part of two good families that have minimum drama. I got to bed rather late on Christmas Eve and morning came quickly. My wife and I had to get up early to prepare a big breakfast for our family. I may need to rethink this next year. It's a lot of work, a lot of food, and this year, a lot of leftovers. Of course, one aspect of Christmas morning that I really like is that I get to stay home. Since my wife and I have grown children and have been promoted to the rank of grandparents, we now celebrate Christmas Day at our house. Most of our life we had to go to our parents or aunts and uncles. It's good to be PaPaw. It never ceases to amaze me how so much time and effort spent on preparing for Christmas is wiped out in a matter of a few hours on Christmas morning. Christmas is over so fast it's like falling off a cliff. You hit the ground very fast and hard. Next weekend we will attempt to get the house back to normal before resuming the remodeling that has been going on in the background the last few weeks. Soon my "music room" will undergo a major renovation that will create a lot of personal chaos for me. However, I can see the finished product in my mind and it will be very nice. Like every year, I look forward to the nothingness of January and, hopefully, some snowfalls. I would love to be in a place like the one pictured above. If I am lucky, and I can find the time, I hope to schedule a weekend in one of the hermitages at Bethany Springs, a retreat center near the monastery. I have been negligent of my spiritual life and some silence and solitude are sorely needed. Hopefully, I can find some early in the new year and get off on the right track as 2010 arrives.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Walking On A Cold Day

I love to take walks outside on cold days. A few days ago I was feeling very tired and I wasn't in a great mood so I decided to take a walk during my lunch break. I walked beside the Great Lawn adjacent to my office and along the river. At one point I passed a Christmas tree lot where the aroma of evergreen was in the air. Nearby a towboat was pushing a large barge beneath the bridge and down the river. The sky was blue and clear. The air was crisp. I could see planes coming from the north and heading towards the airport. They were probably coming from Chicago. On past trips from Chicago I was always happy when I looked out the window and recognized the Ohio River and downtown Louisville. I could see some cars and trucks crossing the bridge between Louisville and Southern Indiana and others driving along the I-64 Interstate highway. I always wonder, "Who are these people and where are they going"? I often walk alone but sometimes I walk with a friend. Usually when we walk, we also talk. Sometimes, however, we will stop and just sit on a bench in silence. If you have a friendship that doesn't require conversation, you have a good friend. This day, however, I was alone with my own thoughts. By the time I got back indoors I was refreshed, awake, and in a much better mood.

Things My Body Wants For Christmas

  1. Hair Transplants
  2. A Case of Grecian Formula 44
  3. Lasik Surgery
  4. Braces
  5. A complete replacement of everything that is part of my intestinal system.
  6. A Hip Replacement
  7. New Knees

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Is Near

It is Wednesday night. Christmas Eve is a week from tomorrow. At my house 99% of the work is done thanks to my wife. My biggest Christmas chore is fixing the family a big breakfast on Christmas morning. I have five more work days before a four day Christmas break. The holidays are something you see coming from far in the distance yet they continually surprise you with their sudden appearance. The autumn and early winter seem to be on an accelerated schedule. Once Halloween arrives, the rest of the year is a blur. The busyness and general excess of the Christmas season are something I kind of enjoy but I also long for it to be over. Even now, before one present has been opened, I look forward to the simplicity and nothingness of January. Still, it would be wrong for me to complain too much. At this time my family is blessed and life is good. Circumstances are allowing my wife and me to be generous to others as we enjoy good times. I am acutely aware that many are not as blessed as I am and for many this is a difficult time. The economy is still challenging for millions of people and Christmas is a stressful time for many. Every time I listen to the traditional Christmas carols I think what an impossible portrait they paint. They present us with a vision and ideal of Christmas that no one can achieve. I think for most people the movie "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" is a more realistic portrayal. Christmas, at its best, is financially and emotionally stressful, to say nothing of its busyness and sometimes overwhelming demands. Still, most people, including me, look forward to it every year and we do tend to be more thoughtful and caring than we normally are. Of course, for me, having a young child in the family makes it all better. Her excitement lifts my sometimes dragging spirit. Yes, Christmas is near. Bring it on!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Living In A Busy Time

Like all people affected by the holiday season, my life seems very busy right now. Here I sit on another Sunday night wondering where the weekend went. By the time I got home on Friday night I was wiped out. I did not have a bad work week, I just felt unusually tired and bed time couldn't come fast enough. I did have the luxury of sleeping in on Saturday morning although I crawled out of my bed after nine hours of sleep. I wanted to enjoy a morning without work and some solitude before my granddaughter arrived for an overnighter. She arrived in the early afternoon and soon afterwards became engaged in baking cookies and making candy with Grandma. After all the sugar cookies were baked and decorated, and the chocolate was melted in a double boiler to be poured into candy molds, Chloe looked at me and said, "This is a lot of work"! In order to avoid diabetic comas, my wife and I sent most of the treats home with her. Last night before going to bed we watched the Curious George and Shrek Christmas movies. Today, as is her custom, Chloe woke me up at the first sign of daylight. "Pa Paw, do you know what I would like to do after we make your coffee? No, Chloe, I don't. What would you like to do? I want you to take me outside and teach me how to catch squirrels. Well, Chloe, that's very hard to do. Squirrels are very fast. But I want to pet one"! Of course, by the time we got down the stairs, the squirrels were long forgotten and were safe from an inquisitive little granddaughter. Soon enough we were sitting side by side at the kitchen table eating our bowls of Lucky Charms.

Today I had a very enjoyable brunch with three of my siblings and my mother. Last week my mother turned 80 years old. My siblings and I took her out today to a restaurant where I had never been. The building used to be a tavern where my underage friends and I used to purchase beer illegally in our youth. Today it looks the same on the outside but the inside has been transformed into a restaurant. Everything was very nice and the food was great, especially the New Orleans style sugar coated donuts, whose proper name I cannot recall, and the bourbon flavored bread pudding we had for dessert. Two other really nice touches were the real wood fireplace and the string quartet that played Christmas carols. It was my kind of off the beaten path, one of a kind, classy restaurant.

Christmas approaches with alarming speed. By my count it will be here in twelve days. Thank God I am not using the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" as my shopping guide. As I have said before, I may look a little like Santa, especially when my beard is long, but my wife is Mrs. Claus. She makes it happen for my family and this year she has been at the top of her game.

Now I need to go back downstairs where the oven is self cleaning itself, the washing machine is swishing, the dry is humming. A man's work is never done. (smile)

Monday, December 07, 2009

There's Nothing New Under The Sun

Today we had the first official snowfall of the season. It wasn't much but it did offer a glimpse of what hopefully lies ahead in the colder months of winter.

Sooner or later a reading from the Tao always finds its way into my blog. Here is a reading for today.

There's nothing to paint anymore.
We've seen everything from the classical to the absurd.
There's nothing to write anymore.
As many books are shredded as read.
There's nothing to sing anymore.
The once avant-garde is now background music.

As someone once said, "There's nothing new under the sun".

I often ask myself why I continue to write and why I publish my thoughts on this blog for friends and strangers near and far to read. What could I possibly say that is new? In all likelihood, nothing. Still, each man or woman, each generation, strives to find their voice even if the basic experience of living and being alive is a process that has repeated itself over and over many billions of times throughout the history of mankind. Even if the process of being born, of living, and of dying haven't changed much, if at all, life never seems the same for each new generation as they begin their life's journey. All new generations think their experience of life will be different. However, this is something of an illusion. Even if the world my granddaughter was born into in 2004 is not the same world as I was born into in 1951, her experience of being human will be essentially the same as mine. Each generation will struggle to paint their paintings, to write their books, and create their music as an attempt to understand the experience of their life and times. Each generation will have their own ideas about the meaning of their lives and these ideas will come out in their art. However, when it is all said and done, the human experience has changed very little. Life is like a play from Shakespeare. You can change the scenery and the context but the dialogue is the same. Human emotions and personalities have not changed. The only real change is the time in history and the circumstances into which one is born. Each generation has different scenery and stage props but the dialogue of mankind...the human experience...seems to repeat itself over and over as one generation passes away and another takes it's place.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Chloe Visits With Santa Claus

The Early Arrival Of Winter

I woke up naturally about 6:00 AM this morning as I do most days. I wanted to stay in bed but I had plans to go to the monastery. I slowly got out of bed before the alarm went off and headed for the shower. After showering and getting dressed I went downstairs to gather my things and hit the road. Going outside was a shock. When I got out of the city and in the country, the temperature was in the teens. We are still about two weeks away from winter but no one told nature. It was very cold and I had a heavy frost on my car. It took a little while to get the car warm and the windshield scraped. Of course, I needed gas so I had to stop and freeze my butt off while I filled the tank. I then went across the street to a convenience store for some coffee and muffins. Inside the store I walked into an argument between two clerks because one was accusing the other of drinking on the job. When the man referred to the woman as "honey", she said "How would you like a sexual harassment complaint too"! I decided to get out of there before the guns came out and they shot one another. Soon I was on the road with hot coffee, a warm car, and the countrified sounds of Levon Helm.

The early hour and frigid morning must have kept many people in their beds. Traffic was sparse and soon I was on a peaceful journey to the home of my friend, Fr. Dennis. After I got off the interstate highway the sun began to rise. One of the payoffs for being up and out early on a winter's morning are the beautiful sunrises. As I approached Dennis's home I could see the twinkling of Christmas tree lights. Inside the house and the hospitality were warm.

When I got to the monastery I felt a sense of peace that often overcomes me when I am there. I met with a group of friends and had some good discussion before joining the monks in church for today's mass for the 2nd Sunday of Advent. I love the austerity of the Cistercian architecture, especially when the abbey church is full of the sounds of their wonderful pipe organ and the aroma of incense wafts through the air. I am always reminded of the Psalmist words, "Let my prayer, O Lord, rise before you like incense"! After mass we had a wonderful lunch where I ate too much while having a great discussion with a monk visiting from Rome.

The drive home was rough in spite of the fresh cup of coffee I had with me. I was very fatigued. As soon as I got home I immediately took a nap and slept until I went out to dinner with my wife and son before he headed back to the seminary. My trips to the monastery are always anticipated and enjoyed but for reasons I don't understand they are also exhausting. However, I will continue to go as long as I can still find my way out there.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Living In The Flow

When I returned to work yesterday after ten days of vacation I felt terrible. I was tired and didn't feel very well. Time moved at a glacier pace and I just wasn't into anything I did. The first day back to work after a period of vacation is always a downer. Today was quite the opposite. I wasn't thrilled about getting out of bed in the dark, knowing it was cold outside, but once I was up and showered and dressed I felt pretty good. I felt even better after a couple of cups of java in my coffee mug. After I got to work I was in a light hearted mood and was enjoying myself as much as possible when you are at work. Later in the day I realized that I had become lost in the sensation known as "flow". Flow is when you are so into whatever you are doing that you lose all sense of time and space. I was deep into a self created project, running reports and crunching numbers, to prove a point that I had deep concern over. When I finally looked at the clock on the wall that usually seems stuck in the moment, I was amazed that several hours had passed and I was near the end of my day. This experience was wonderful on several levels. I was able to prove my point with data, I thoroughly enjoyed being lost in the moment, and I felt like I accomplished something worthwhile. It is a joy living in the flow of life. It's so much better than feeling like you are stuck in a dead zone of meaningless chores and time killing activity.