dual personalities

Month: December, 2021

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from all of us to all of you! Here’s wishing you a healthy, happy and mask-free 2022!

“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.”
― Benjamin Franklin

Another slice of gingerbread

Did you have a merry Christmas? I hope so. Daughter #2 and Katiebelle leave today and I will get back to regular blogging shortly. Until then, here’s wishing you a happy new year and hoping that you resolve to grow in godliness in 2022. However, I agree with Anne that “the way out is not to try to baptize self-consideration. Nor to take to oneself the work of the Holy Spirit. Rather, the Christian above all people has access to the greatest gift given by God–to lose track of oneself in the worship of a holy and merciful God.”

Here’s the 2021 TCM Remembers video which features film luminaries who died this past year.

I’ll be toasting the wonderful Israeli actress Haya Harareet who died this year in February.

Check out this four-minute clip of PCA minister Alistair Begg–“The Man on the middle cross said I could come.”

The full sermon is titled “The Power and Message of the Cross” and can be watched in its entirety here.

R.C. Sproul reminded us continually that “Disciples of Christ abide in His Word. Those who abide in His Word know the truth and are free.” Here is a list of Bible reading plans for 2022 from Ligonier Ministries.

So again, Happy New Year! Thank you for reading our blog.

We are happy to be welcoming a new year, but remember to celebrate responsibly. Daughter #1 is headed back to Jeff City early because the weather forecast for this weekend looks lousy. Our New Year’s Eve plans will be curtailed and low-key. C’est la vie.

I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,

    With Thee, O Father, as my harbour,

    Thee O Son, at my helm,

    Thee O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.

Guide me to heaven with my loins girt,

    My lamp burning,

    My ear open to thy calls,

    My heart full of love, my soul free.

Give me Thy grace to sanctify me,

    Thy comforts to cheer me,

    Thy wisdom to teach,

    Thy right hand to guide,

    Thy counsel to instruct,

    Thy law to judge,

Thy presence to stabilize.

    May Thy fear be my awe,

    Thy triumphs my joy.

–Jonathan Edwards

The ways deep and the weather sharp, The very dead of winter.

All three sons have arrived home safely: one came up the highway through a white-out around Tug Hill; one came from an ice storm in Maine, and the youngest wound through the Adirondacks in clear weather. We are all together for Christmas for the first time in four years! To celebrate, we feasted on bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs and pancakes until not a crumb remained. Here, the older brothers yuck it up with the DH, while Tim gives the photographer the side-eye.

After dinner, we spent a raucous evening playing music on our laptops and phones. We listened to everything from Tyler Childers, Blanco White, and Tom Petty, to Bill Bailey (watch from beginning to at least 4:54) and The Hu (Mongolian biker metal – start at 1:30). I bet you can’t guess who chose the Hu (not I). Since we shared music for hours, these selections barely scratch the surface, but you get the idea. Finally, this Christmas medley should put you in a festive mood.

You have to admit it’s quite special. I particularly like the “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” sung to the tune of “Jingle Bells”. Do listen to the whole thing!

Today I need to write the cards for my gifts but otherwise I have no real plans. There will be no church service due to New York’s latest Covid rules, but we will do just fine reading poems and singing songs on our own. Merry Christmas! God bless you all and bring you cheer!  

“Let every heart prepare him room”

Christmas draws nigh and if we aren’t ready now, we’ll never be. Relax. Everything will be fine.

Today would have been our  Aunt Susanne’s 97th birthday. She was our mother’s older sister and the Grand Dame of the family. 

She was very different from our mother…

…as you can see in this picture taken in about 1930 (with their older cousin Marjorie). But they loved each other very much. When she was dying, it was Susanne who “understood” her best. After all, they had the most history together. 

Of the three sisters, I think I am the most like Susanne, who also was a timid child. She played no varsity sports and she was not an intellectual like our mother. But she liked poetry and was a devoted church lady who endeavored to cultivate the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control). She also liked a glass of spirits at the end of the day. When she died, her house was in order. As her son wrote me a few years after her death in 2000:

My mother saved everything (well, almost everything), and when the time came to settle her estate and move her belongings, I thought, “Maybe it’s important to save the things she thought were important to save.” So, I packed almost every item I came across.

Our attic and my workshop are stacked full of identical boxes that are just the right size for moving–not too big, not too small. Each one is labeled with its contents.

Periodically, I open one and try to make a decision to keep, or pass on, the items inside.

He is still working on it, all these years later…So tonight I will toast these devoted sisters and also our dear Aunt Donna, the remaining Cameron girl, who is 88.

Xmas card circa 1936

In other news, I finally watched the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol, the one with Reginald Owen. Some people actually think this is the best version. I can’t imagine why. It was not good, especially when compared with the close-to-perfect 1951 Alistair Sim version. I could go into detail explaining why it is not good, but suffice it to say, do not waste your time watching it. Indeed, the Muppet version is much better.

To recap, besides the three versions of A Christmas Carol I have viewed this month, I have watched White Christmas (1951), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), The Bishop’s Wife (1947), The Santa Clause (1994). And I confess that I jumped the gun and watched 3 Godfathers (1946). I just couldn’t wait until Epiphany–mea culpa.

Can you blame me? I am holding off on a few Christmas favorites at the request of daughter #1 who will arrive home later today.

Speaking of movies, this was an interesting article about movies that were filmed in our flyover hometown. I found Harold Ramis’s back-pedaling about the scene he filmed in East St. Louis to be hilarious.

Merry Christmas!

O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherds, and enlarge my mind;

let me hear good tidings of great joy, and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore, my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose, place me with ox, ass, camel, goat, to look with them upon my Redeemer’s face, and in him account myself delivered from sin;

let me with Simeon clasp the new-born child to my heart, embrace him with undying faith, exulting that he is mine and I am his.

In him thou hast given me so much that heaven can give no more.

From The Valley of Vision

“Christmas a humbug, uncle! You don’t mean that I’m sure?”

Out upon merry Christmas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, and not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I had my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heard. He should!”

Scrooge in A Christmas Carol

Back in my New York days, I was walking down a street in Soho one sunny weekend with a friend when we passed a man with a cat on his head. The man was charging $1 to take a picture with him. And people were doing it. I turned to my friend and said, “We are such chumps for having jobs.”

This feeling has never really gone away. Working hard, having standards, being responsive to emails, calling people back, it all feels like wasted effort. Few people reciprocate. And certainly fewer people appreciate it.

It is hard to believe Christmas Eve is this Friday, because, boy, I am just not feeling festive at all. And I probably won’t feel any festivity until I get to Kirkwood, crack open the first bottle of the house wine, and put my work phone away. Because it is only when I am away from the internet and everyone else’s incessant opinions about everything that I am able to focus on what is happening right around me. I look back at the year and it seems like it actually went pretty fast. But that’s probably because I barely remember any of it. It’s one long blur of me talking about how stupid everything is (because it kept getting stupider with every passing day).

Or maybe it is that for the whole year what I was being told didn’t match what I saw around me. And my brain is just mush now.

As I look ahead to the new year, facing the daily struggle of finding the desire to continue working hard, be responsive to emails, call people back, have standards and hope that others will raise theirs to meet mine, feels like the manifestation of a heavy sigh. I don’t like feeling like Arthur in The King of Queens all the time.

Each year at Christmas, I try to read A Christmas Carol. I enjoy the language and identifying the lines I recognize from Gonzo’s dialogue in ‘A Muppet Christmas Carol’. But also, the story is a great one for setting one off for Christmas in a good way. It should be required reading for everyone with an opinion on anything.

The temptation to be like Scrooge is a strong one. And giving in is easy. The struggle, then, is not to let that temptation win. To be joyful is important. We need to focus on finding joy in responding with a smile, working hard, and even little things like the UPS driver who says ‘Merry Christmas’ as he drops a package at the door and runs back to his truck.

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say, Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round–apart from the veneration due to its sacred origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that–as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-travellers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, ‘God bless it!'”

Scrooge’s nephew, A Christmas Carol

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy

Four days til Christmas! I am re-reading Shepherds Abiding by Jan Karon, the Mitford Advent/Christmas book, to help put me in the mood. It’s the one where Father Tim is fixing up the old nativity set. Standard stuff but always comforting.

I also got out some of my mother’s old Christmas books, including Happy Christmas, published in 1968, which includes selections from a wide variety of books.

This one reminds us that nothing changes that much–at least peoples’ view that times are never as good as the good ol’ days…

Anne is right on target as usual. “In the face of all this searching desire on the part of God, you can keep backing up, like Israel always did, hoping he will get bored and hassle someone else. Or you can be like Mary. You can magnify him—that is, praise his holy Name. You can let your soul rejoice in him. You can revel in the contrast between his great mercy and strength, and your own foolish weakness.”

Here is part two of Paul Zahl’s TCM picks for December. I have to say, I really disagree with him about King of Kings (1961) which he still really likes. I loved it as a child (Jeffrey Hunter is dreamy) and the music is great, but it is unbiblical and really pretty bad.

And here’s the Charlie Brown Christmas Medley (with all the parts played by Josh Turner) to put you solidly in the mood for mistletoe and presents for pretty girls…

And this made me laugh.

Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation

The last weekend before Christmas has passed and I am ready for the big day. I got the tree up and decorated with the help of the boy who came over twice–once after work to put the tree up and once before work to do the lights. I then put up the decorations by myself. Voila–not the best shaped tree ever, but who cares? It’s pretty. I also put up my stained glass collection.

The boy and his little family were in Kansas City this weekend and daughter #1 stayed in JC, so the OM and I went to church unaccompanied–twice. We went in the morning and again at 6:00 pm, because the farewell party for our senior pastor followed the evening service. After 15 years he is moving on to a bigger church in McLean, Virginia and they are lucky to get him–such a good preacher! It is typical that this is happening when I have just found a great new church (and denomination), but I trust that we will get a new senior pastor that is equally gifted.

In a funny way I am thankful that the Covid shutdowns happened, because it forced me to go online to find somewhere to worship and in turn that got me looking seriously at alternatives to the Episcopal Church. I mean, finding a church in Charlottesville, VA did me no good once we were back in church. I had been listening to Tim Keller sermons on YouTube for a long time, but my learning curve really went into hyperdrive when I discovered R.C. Sproul on Ligonier.org. Since Ligonier emphasizes the importance of the local church, once things reopened I felt a strong pull to find a Reformed church in St. Louis. I did more research, and remembering the PCA church I passed on my way to chemotherapy all through 2019,

I tried Covenant on Easter Sunday. I felt instantly at home although I knew not a soul there. In our newcomer class I met a man who had the exact same experience with his online search–starting with R.C. Sproul videos. He was coming from the Roman Catholic Church and we bonded over our shared positive searches. Tim Keller! R.C. Sproul! Alistair Begg! Clearly we are not alone in our endeavors.

This is the upside of the internet– teaching resources like Ligonier’s can now be easily accessed all over the world. You can go to YouTube and watch endless hours of excellent teaching for free. (I love the Q&A sessions where you can hear a variety of these learned men answering questions.) Indeed, Ligonier has over 2,500,000 YouTube channel plays per month! I encourage you to check it out!

There is usually a silver lining in every negative situation, if you look for it, right?

Be of good cheer.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

Are not two sparrows sold for a cent?*

With the help of our eldest son, we got our Christmas tree up and decorated last weekend.  Every year I photograph the tree, though there is little to distinguish one year’s tree from another. Since I got my smartphone, the clarity has certainly improved, but in the photo below I managed to cut off the topper angel’s head. Obviously, I need to work on composition. (I also see the need to rearrange some of the lights. Note the big empty hole around the Idaho ornament at the lower center of the tree). We’ll consider this year’s tree a work in progress.

Aside from seasonal activities, we amused ourselves one evening doing numismatic research. One of my recent auction lot purchases included a few mysterious old coins, and we decided to try to identify them. The DH quickly recognized that he had a 7th century Byzantine follis.

The other side depicts the Empress Martina, the Emperor Heraclius (610-641) and their son Heraclius Constantine standing together, as in this example the DH found online.  

Apparently, the family caused quite a scandal since Martina, who was Heraclius’s second wife, was also his niece. His first wife, who had been extremely popular, died young, a fact that made the incestuous second marriage seem that much worse. Still, the royal couple managed to mint some celebratory coins and retain power in spite of their poor moral choices.

The coin I investigated also involved crime, albeit not the racy kind. It is a Roman denarius or antoninianus that I believe depicts Spanish-born Laelianus, who led a revolt in Mainz, Germany, where he was a governor in 269 AD. He held power long enough to mint some money before the rightful emperor, Postumus, put an end to his rival’s brief reign.

The reverse shows a winged victory.

So much for the Spanish usurper and his 15 minutes of fame. He had a nice profile, though, don’t you think?

Taking on a major linguistic challenge, James chose one of the two Asian coins in the group.

He discovered that this side has Chinese characters while the other side sports a different script that may be Vietnamese. The coin seems to date to the second half of the 19th century, but that’s as much as we can find out. James concluded that, far from being cursed or magical, the coin is simply old, loose change.

We could say the same for the Roman/Byzantine coins which are very small and thin, and for all we know could be fake. Even so, we had fun investigating. Next time you are bored, look around your house and see if there isn’t some object that raises your interest. Spend an hour or two trying to find out about it. You might learn about long-forgotten political chicanery or the shocking shenanigans of ancient royals! The artist Vasily Kandinsky captured this idea eloquently: “Everything that is dead quivers. Not only the things of poetry, stars, moon, wood, flowers, but even a white trouser button glittering out of a puddle in the street…” – even old coins have stories to tell.

Have a grand weekend! My hope is to finish my grading today and take off tomorrow, my birthday. The weather is supposed to be bad, so I have the perfect excuse to stay home and DO NOTHING!

*Matthew 10:29

A few toasts and a birthday

Today is the 248th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. You remember–when members of the Sons of Liberty dressed up like Mohawk Indians and dumped hundreds of crates of tea into Boston harbor as a protest against the Tea Act. A toast to these domestic terrorists of yore!

It is also the 210th anniversary of the first two in a series of four severe earthquakes which occurred in the vicinity of New Madrid, Missouri. The New Madrid zone experienced four of the largest North American earthquakes in recorded history, with moment magnitudes estimated to be as large as 7.0 or greater, all occurring within a 3-month period between December 1811 and February 1812. At New Madrid, trees were knocked down and riverbanks collapsed. This event shook windows and furniture in Washington, DC, rang bells in Richmond, Virginia, sloshed well water and shook houses in Charleston, South Carolina, and knocked plaster off of houses in Columbia, South Carolina. In Jefferson, Indiana, furniture moved, and in Lebanon, Ohio, residents fled their homes. There was renewed concern in the 1990s of imminent earthquake activity and I remember putting away my antique china for fear it might be broken. We may have had some water in reserve in the basement too as a precaution…but nothing happened and I don’t worry about such things anymore.

Today is also the birthday of George Santayana (1863-1952), philosopher, essayist, novelist, poet, and legendary Harvard professor. Here is one of his poems, A Toast, in keeping with the situation:

See this bowl of purple wine,

Life-blood of the lusty vine!

All the warmth of summer suns

In the vintage liquid runs,

All the glow of winter nights

Plays about its jewel lights,

Thoughts of time when love was young

Lurk its ruby drops among,

And its deepest depths are dyed

With delight of friendship tried.

Worthy offering, I ween,

For a god or for a queen,

Is the draught I pour to thee,–

Comfort of all misery,

Single friend of the forlorn,

Haven of all beings born,

Hope when trouble wakes at night,

And when naught delights, delight.

Holy Death, I drink to thee;

Do not part my friends and me.

Take this gift, which for a night

Puts dull leaden care to flight,

Thou who takest grief away

For a night and for a day.

I will be toasting my dual personality on Saturday, because it is her birthday.

Here is a snapshot of the siblings a week after her 2nd birthday on Christmas morning. Our brother is 9, she is 2 and I am 4 1/2. I loved the dress I was wearing. Another girl in my class had it and I felt very cool. In fact, there might have been three of us in my small junior kindergarten class with that dress. It was red. The things that stay in your mind!

Anyway, here’s to my lovely and much-loved sister on her birthday.

(Long distance toasting!)

Now it’s time for tree-trimming…

The painting at the top is by Ernest Lawson (1873 – 1939) who studied at the Art Students League, New York, with J. Alden Weir and John Twachtman, and later in Paris at the Académie Julien. Upon his return to the United States he produced his famous impressionistic urban landscapes that linked him to the Ashcan school.

Christmas time is here

In daughter #2’s neck of the woods, it does feel like Christmas time has arrived, and we are embracing the Happiness and cheer / Fun for all that children call / Their favorite time of year. It is especially sweet to have an 18-month old who embraces and seems to appreciate our various Christmas traditions, from nativity sets to Merry Mancini albums and all manner of Christmas decorations.

Who needs Elf on the Shelf when you have a “NOM” (gnome) you can relocate each morning all on your own?

Indeed, Katie is very taken with our Christmas tree, which she carefully inspects so that she can point out “BALL,” “WHALE,” “MAN” and “HAT” (the nutcracker), “DOG,” “TUCK” (truck), “BABA” (herself!), etc. etc.

Note that above, Katie wears a dress (more of a tunic on her) from the large stash of Christmas-y items handmade or purchased by her great grandmother for her aunt Mary. Talk about passing on traditions — we do love sartorial festivity in this family.

And I was pleased that Katie made it through an entire showing of A Charlie Brown Christmas while snuggled up in a blanket with me. (Yes, she likes to wear her hat inside.) She was enamored with Charlie Brown and Linus, whom she called the names of her two pals at school — aptly so, really.

DN and I had a post-bedtime viewing of White Christmas, which just never, never fails to put me in a good mood. It is perfect from start to finish. Is it unorthodox to say it might be my favorite movie of all time? My sister mentioned her favorite dress here; this year, DN and I were particularly fond of this costume of Vera’s, which calls to mind some of Katie’s ruffled-bottom leggings:

Well, it’s funny to watch this movie and be reminded of a toddler’s wardrobe, but you can imagine that I view most things these days with Katie in mind. I can’t wait until she is old enough to watch White Christmas herself — I just know she will love it! In the meantime, maybe we’ll see if she’ll sit still for Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I mean, Hermey might be a toddler icon?