More Than a Decoration

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Christmas tree isn't just a decoration. It reflects family and memories and love.

Thursday's "At Home" column by Marni Jameson talked about her visit to a Christmas tree exhibit with artistic trees of all shapes, colors, and materials. They included one made of apple-green Tupperware bowls and one shaped like the Eiffel Tower. Then Marni gave readers tips on how to create their own designer trees.

Much as I enjoy Marni Jameson's column, this time I disagree with her. I'm all for creativity, but I don't want a designer tree.

I want one that creates memories of Christmases past and hints at those to come.

The second picture shows the year I got my doll house. A wonderful Christmas with a scrawny tree covered in hand-made decorations. The paper chains are the most obvious here, and we had at least two kinds. Our tree topper was a cardboard star covered with aluminum foil, and the best ornaments were . . . well, I'll tell you about them in a minute.

I remember only four store-bought things that ornamented our Christmas trees as I grew up. Strings of lights, shiny round balls (like the one in the top picture), long plastic ornaments that resembled the icicles hanging from the eves, and tinsel.

The best ornaments were the ones my father made from goose or turkey wishbones. He dried the wishbones and painted them silver. I'm not sure how many there were originally, but I have two that hang on my tree every year. You can see one of them in the first picture.

The third picture shows the type of tree we had when my children were growing up. By now, most of the ornaments were commercially made, but they still had memories attached. The mouse I bought at a dime store when I moved out on my own, the cloth Santa that always hung at the bottom of the tree because toddlers couldn't destroy it, and the ornaments Roland's parents gave us each year. We also used the ones Caroline and John made in school, but most of them disintegrated over time.

Even though the children are grown up now, the tradition continues. My current tree (shown in the last picture) still wears the mouse and the Santa, the ornaments from Roland's parents, and the two wishbones. The stocking I crocheted for Caroline hangs in her living room, along with the one I made for Pete the year they got married. John's stocking is still here, but once he has a permanent home, I'm sure he'll take his, too.

So don't let anyone convince you that a Christmas tree is just art or decor.

It is family and memories and love.

The Alternative

Monday, November 19, 2012

This past week I attended two wakes. Both were for elderly women who had been active in my church until the advancing years turned them into shut-ins.

I had a routine eye exam the week before, and somehow the conversation turned to growing old. My optometrist said, "It's better than the alternative." My reply? "I don't mind the alternative." Then she said, "Oh, don't think that way." That was my cue to explain why I don't mind death, and I let the opportunity pass.

Here's what I should have said.

I do worry about losing my faculties and my independence, so I'm not looking forward to old age. On the other hand, I like my life and there are a lot of things I want to do before I die. I'm not seeking death.

But I'm also not afraid of it. God has promised that death is simply the entrance to heaven for those who believe in his Son, Jesus Christ.

And I'm one of them.

Only God knows what heaven looks like, and that's okay with me. I don't care if the gates are made of pearl and the streets are paved with gold. I don't even care if it's a physical place or only an experiential one. One thing I do know: in heaven we will be in constant communion with God, and nothing is better than that.

We won't all grow old.

But I don't mind the alternative.

It's a Lie

Monday, November 12, 2012

Violin concertos embraced me as I drove back from Indianapolis on Saturday, and my heart soared and ached simultaneously. I longed to be able to play like that.

I love the violin. It is more versatile than any other musical instrument. In Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" the violins trill like birds, roar like thunder, murmur like a gentle breeze, romp like peasants celebrating the harvest, and spit like icy rain.

Few of you know that I used to play violin. I took lessons for three years and played last chair in the college orchestra for one year before I faced the truth: I would never be more than a sixth-rate violinist. And it wasn't for lack of trying. Granted, I didn't practice as much as I should have, but it was my body that betrayed me.

Physically, there are two characteristics all good violinists possess. One is an "ear" for pitch. It wouldn't surprise me if there are deaf violinists who can "hear" the pitch in the vibrations that course through their fingertips. But one way or another, a violinist must be able to determine whether he or she is on pitch while tuning and playing the instrument.

If a piano is properly tuned, playing the perfect pitch is as simple as hitting a particular key. Violins aren't like that. Each string contains a continuum of pitches, and producing the right one requires you to hear it inside your head as you place your fingers.

I was good at that.

The other necessary characteristic is dexterity. Dexterity in the bow arm (which is the right arm for a right-handed person) and dexterity in the fingers that play the notes, which are on the opposite hand than the one you use for writing and other fine-motor skills.

Dexterity I didn't have and could never develop no matter how motivated I was. If I had set my heart on being a great violinist, my dreams--and my heart--would have shattered.

So I wince whenever I hear someone say, "You can be whatever you want if you try hard enough."

It's a lie.

Not everyone can be the smartest kid in the class or the prettiest girl or the best athlete. Many people want to be President of the United States or Miss America or an Olympic gold medalist, but only a few succeed.

I'll never be a good violinist. But that's okay, because my talents lie in other directions.

We all have talents. They may not be the ones that make us rich or famous, but every one is valuable. We need carpenters as much as (okay, more than) we need lawyers.

The secret to success is not in believing that we can be whatever we want to be. That road leads to heartbreak.

The secret to success is discovering our talents and making the most of them.

And that's no lie.

What's in a Title?

Monday, November 5, 2012

I'm taking a poll, but it has nothing to do with the election.

Lately I've had several discussions with my writer friends about titles of blog posts. Should the title be descriptive so the reader knows whether the subject will interest him or her, or should the title be intriguing to rouse the reader's curiosity? The same question applies to the blurb included with a Facebook post linking to the blog. I'd love to have your comments telling me what type of title--informative or intriguing--is more likely to make you read a post.

As an illustration, but mostly for fun, ask yourself which of the following book titles shown in the picture attract you most.

  • Little Women or Pride and Prejudice. Both of these novels are about sisters who look for love. Okay, so you have to read partway into Little Women before the love stories start piling up, but they do come.
  • Bird by Bird or On Writing Well. These are both books about writing.
  • A Pebble in My Shoe or Four Continents to Freedom. Each is an autobiography about growing up in Europe during World War II, living in an internment camp, and becoming a refugee after the war.
  • The Last Voyage of the Lusitania or A Night to Remember. While one book is about the Lusitania and the other is about the Titanic, each tells the story of a passenger ship that sank at sea and lost over a thousand lives.
  • The Writer Got Screwed (but didn't have to) or The Law (in Plain English) for Writers. These books are both legal guides for writers.
  • An English Murder or Violet Dawn. Both are murder mysteries.
There are no right or wrong answers. It's all personal preference.

But I would like to know which type of title is more likely to make you read my blog posts.