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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

In my addictive way, I devoured Elizabeth Strout’s Abide With Me in a less than twenty-four hour period. After all, it’s that time between Christmas and New Year’s when it seems to me that it’s OK to rest a little after all the Christmas preparations and before I buckle down into making the beginning of the new year productive.

My long-time critique friend Mary recommended this book to me since I had been searching for books on redemption. The main character of the book is in a prolonged period of mourning, the kind where everyone can note how much the light has dimmed in his eyes. As he nears his lowest point, he remembers this Henri Nouwen quote:

My whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.

Don’t I know it. Somehow I imagine that once you accept such a thing, then it becomes so much easier to live in an attitude of gratitude.

Endings of old years and beginnings of new years turn a lot of us into reflective moods. I don’t want to reflect only on what hasn’t worked or on that which was painful. You know that old expression you often don’t like to hear from other people: it could be worse. It really is true!

I think when you are tired from having constant interruptions of the difficult kind, you can miss what went right.

So, it’s time for the “Top Ten Things That Went Right in 2009” (without even mentioning the daily things like having the love of God, stable employment, a warm house, good health, etc.) in my personal world:

1. Christiana rediscovered her way.
2. Jackson was able to learn more effective ways of working, as well as earn his highest grade-point while in high school.
3. Christiana and Jackson became closer again.
4. Both kids experienced success in their artistic pursuits.
5. They also learned to stick with something, even when it had changed for the worse.
6. My mother now lives in a safe place.
7. Sherman has been my rock during these challenging times, yet we still have fun together.
8. Our family spent a week in Mexico without any outside interruptions or trouble from within.
9. We repainted two rooms and put down new flooring in three rooms.
10. I am still standing.

That’s right I’m still standing, no matter how hard the year was. I’m more than standing: I’m running, dancing, doing yoga positions, and Pilates moves, plus I’m writing more than I have in a long time (yes I know that involves sitting—which I didn’t even have time to do for awhile either!)

It’s been said before that I often have “fire in my eyes.” Take that cliché for good or for bad, but what it means is that I have been known for showing passion in what I do and feel. For every little thing—or big thing—that threatens to dim the light in my eyes, I look in the mirror to make sure I can still see the light. Even if it shines a little less brightly right now, I refuse to let it go out.

Repeat after me: this too shall pass, this too shall pass. (Maybe, for good measure, click your ruby slippers together, too! I know I will.)

Even if the interruptions won’t go away, what they are will change and become something different in each season of my life. Nouwen’s right—the interruptions are our life’s work, but here’s hoping for a year more filled with the kind of interruptions I like—you know, the kind that will fan the flames of joy in my eyes once more.

Burn, baby, burn.

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

It’s time for an “oh well, so the cake fell . . .” attitude. I am trying to channel the accepting spirit I had on my wedding day when I found out the cake had fallen. Truth is, we can either allow the little annoying things to spoil our special days, or we can look for the sorts of little things that make life worthwhile.

I am listening to carols sung by the King’s College Choir while trying to breathe deeply and remember what really matters. Not the crazy frustrations of our car locking us out of it while we scraped ice and snow from it or Discover Card shutting down our card, the one we use for prescriptions, groceries, and gas, as we stocked up on the necessities before Christmas Eve. (Turns out the card reader misread the card and triggered a fraud alert.) Not dealing with Mom’s supplemental insurance and how it makes it difficult for her providers to get paid. Not trying to get a straight answer between the doctor’s office and the satellite clinic.

No, today I need to let out a primal scream for all the frustrations of the last sixteen hours . . . and then move on.

“What’s today, my fine fellow?” said Scrooge.

“Today!” replied the boy. “Why, Christmas [Eve] Day!”

“It’s Christmas [Eve] Day!” said Scrooge to himself. “I haven’t missed it.”

Yesterday’s snows, which frosted the whole of outdoors in that wedding cake white, have ended. On this cold, crisp day, the picture postcard White Christmas sits outside our windows. Classic Colorado snow-covered peaks are juxtaposed against a blue sky that needs no photo-editing program—this is the type of view Photoshop attempts to copy or create.

Early this Christmas Eve, for the second morning in a row, Sherman and I crept out in the dark to clear snow from the parking lot and sidewalks. The untouched snow sparkled before we set to our work, clearing paths and throwing row after row of the fluffy stuff where it would pack into not-so-pristine mountains. Though my fingers tingled in the cold of pre-dawn, I gave into peacefulness during those uncomplicated moments.

(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

While pushing the snow blower, I could easily remember the joy I felt the previous night—before the car-locking incident—as our small caroling party braved the blowing snow and extreme chill, holding battery-powered pseudo-candles that lit the way but did nothing to warm our hands. Three adults, two young girls, and a whole lot of made-up words. Very few ventured into the night to seek the colors of close-by homes, glowing with the all the fantastical wattage (and preparations!) of longtime traditions dedicated to bringing light to people in our community. There was a feeling of being in the world, but not of the world, even though the north wind threatened us with major doses of reality.

No matter that we had hoped to gather the larger group for a much longer performance expedition.

We can choose to mourn the fallen cake or we can go on with the dance.

Let it not be said of us that we don’t know how to keep Christmas well—sometimes it is, indeed, the little things that make all the difference.

Tonight may we not miss celebrating, once more, that little tiny baby who came to bless us—yes—every one of us.

(c)2009 Christiana Lambert


I sat there during yesterday’s sermon—sorry, Pastor Ruth Ann—writing, in my head anyway, a blog entry that’s almost disappeared due to busyness that kept me from writing it. Snippets come back to me, though. It’s about guilt—nothing to do with the sermon, however. In the sermon, Mary gladly accepted the role God handed her. Me, not so much.

Often when I leave my mother at her facility, songs come on the radio that seem to speak to our situation, just as they did when I was experiencing difficulties with Jackson or Christiana. Amazing how a song talking about challenges with romantic love can speak to any sort of love.

Saturday as I drove away, Tom Petty’s “Free Falling” began playing. Yes, I am a good girl who loves her mama, but I also play the bad boy who doesn’t even miss her. I am that bad boy who breaks her heart.

I can’t wait to get away—anymore than she can’t wait to get away from Porter Place—only she can’t leave it behind. No, I just want to get away to a life where I can decorate my own house, go to my in-laws’ house as planned, and not have to think about who she’s become.

The truth is I will never stop missing who she was, but that person has been gone a long time. Even when she was recovering from her broken heel, she was not that person. I remember one morning when we started having a conversation, just like old times, when I was really enjoying spending time with her—for a moment I thought maybe the improved food and medication schedules were helping. But no, that was the only glimpse of my former mother I got—and it’s been almost two years since then.

Like the guy in the song, I want to write her name in the sky. But I don’t want to spend time with the person she is.

She can’t help who she is now, but I wonder if I’m ever going to be able to visit her with anything close to joy in my heart again.

I want my mommy—the one I knew—but at this point, the best I can hope for is to want to be with the mommy I have while I can.

How can any of us do enough for our mothers? There is no such thing as a free fall.

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I don’t want people who want to dance. I want people who ‘have’ to dance.
George Balanchine

(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

Most people are more complex than they appear on the surface. The targeted marketing of the modern age would have us think that a person can be described by the roles they play or the beliefs they hold, and that all the pieces will fit together just so for a particular demographic.

Some of us may not really be outliers from our demographic groups, but we have parts of ourselves that are outliers—and yet they are true representations of who we really are, even if the casual observer would say that piece shouldn’t be what completes that puzzle.

Take the pictures that surfaced of Katie Couric dancing. If you don’t like to dance, maybe you think only a wild weekend can bring on dancing like that—especially if the world sees you as a more serious, down-to-earth person. Could what happened to Katie happen to me? Well, I don’t think my daughter would post pictures of my dancing on Facebook, but that doesn’t mean someone else with a cell phone camera wouldn’t do the same.

Because to them it doesn’t make sense. If some of us are dancing like that, it must mean we have lost control or have some secret deeply hidden life that has just been outed to the world. Can’t be the way God-following, church-going, school-supporting moms—especially of Northern European descent—dance. Sorry, don’t look for any Tiger Woods-type scandal from me. The truth is this rather uptight-acting seemingly conventional mom could be hosting “Janet Reno Dance Parties” in my basement—although a suit wouldn’t be my first choice of dancing apparel.

Trina, Echo Mountain, July 2009 (c) CBL

Somewhere, somehow I developed a dancing persona that is far different from the rest of me. It doesn’t come from something I learned in dance classes. It is a part of me that just is—it can hardly be ignored when the music starts playing. And, yet, it isn’t about any more than dancing—you could ask all those guys who danced with me in the 80s who found out otherwise. The little gleam would turn on in their eyes, and I would have to do everything I could to reel in my inner dancer.

It’s almost as if I have a dancing muse, one who cannot be summoned for formal, traditionally-choreographed pieces. My muse may be a little like the instructor I found in Spain. Pilar came from Argentina and was a woman in her 20s who had danced her whole life. She was short, with cropped dark hair, and full of energy. She taught in one of those stereotypically old dance studios, something that first drew me to the class. I had never before taken a class with a barre—my early dance lessons happened in a community center or a school gym.

American Dance Center, Valencia, Spain, 1982

One time Pilar invited our fledgling Jazz Dance class to go see her in a dance recital. Pilar danced the spectrum of dance types, but to watch her in a pastel pink tutu doing formal ballet was to wonder if the dancer even had a soul. But once Pilar arrived on stage for the modern dance number, I could not take my eyes off her—she was alive with dance—she was the dance.

Of all things, I am most drawn to latin dance rhythms. Me, who appears stiff, like Pilar, when dancing traditional dance forms. The irony is that I felt very Germanic while living and studying in a city on the Mediterranean Sea—except for on the dance floors.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done much dancing, but it’s just like riding a bike. My feet know what to do and, thankfully, I’m in shape enough from running, yoga, and Pilates to keep up with them. Dancing time at Stephen and Cora’s high altitude wedding was way too short for me. Sad, but I’ve only made time to go out dancing once since then—but what a night dancing to Hazel Miller. No, I didn’t need alcohol to get out on the dance floor, but I was hoping all those other “older” dancers at the tables would find their inner Katie Couric soon so Sherman and I wouldn’t be the only ones on the dance floor all night.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

But really, the night club life isn’t that conducive to my sandwiched life right now. So I do Zumba classes where my feet make their own party. And I remember all those influences that led this supposed conventional Midwesterner to move: Hawaiian dance lessons in rural Nebraska, making up dance routines to Tijuana Brass songs, practicing cheerleading moves, learning latin dances (salsa, merengue, and tango) as well as swing dance, going to an occasional Cajun-styled fais do-dos, liturgical dance, and taking up clog dancing.

As you can see, dancing has always been part of my life. I enjoy patterns and rhythms, but like Pilar, I am ridiculously uptight trying to do more formal dances. Don’t mistake my dancing for a “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” moment. I dance the dances I dance because I have to. They are, indeed, part of the colorful pieces that make up the puzzle of who I am.

It’s a good thing the season of Advent is all about waiting because I’m all about waiting until the last minute to do anything about getting ready for Christmas. Oh, would that it were because I was busy keeping Christmas in my heart. That’s what I want it to be about, but with the kids’ college applications, performances, final projects and exams, plus their being sick—again—it’s about too little time in the day.

Still, it beats where we were last year. That alone makes me feel joyful, even if the physical representations of joy have yet to be unpacked in our household. Trust me, I do remember the spirit of last Christmas past. We were happy enough to taste relief and to believe we could see an inkling of the promise of something better to come.

I’ll gladly take the everyday chaos that’s holding back this year’s preparations. I’d like to believe I will never again take the frustrations of typical days for granted . . . but I am human, after all. It’s so easy to forget to keep Christmas in your heart in December, let alone all the year through. I, for one, don’t have the saintly attitude of a Tiny Tim against the little challenges, let alone against the really big ones.

Forgive me for the gratitude I don’t express nearly enough.

Tonight we plan to wrap our gratitude in the blankets Jackson prepared for Children’s Hospital’s Snow Pile event. Since he is not germ-free enough to deliver them, Sherman and I will need to be the messengers of our thanks for not needing those blankets in our own home this year. Is that task so hard, really?

I don’t think so.

Last year one night while driving to visit my daughter in the hospital, I listened to the Barenaked Ladies CD, Barenaked for the Holidays. Children’s Hospital, complete with the flashing lights ready for emergency helicopter landings, loomed into the dark night as the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” came on. I looked on all those lighted windows, knowing that place was full of kids who did not want to be there, especially for the holidays. I wondered, could they feel Christmas at all?

But, just a few days earlier, I had felt Christmas at the Snow Pile event and knew somewhere there was Christmas for those kids, even if they couldn’t feel it—or didn’t know it—yet.

So we return this year to bring a little bit of Christmas into whatever shade some kids are experiencing:

At Christmastime, we let in light and we banish shade.
And in our world of plenty, we can spread a smile of joy.
Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime.
But say a prayer and pray for the other ones
At Christmastime.

It’s the least we can do in a world of people hungry for light.

Some things can wait during this season—like decorating our houses just so—but don’t wait to let others know it’s Christmastime again. Feed the world, however you can.

(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

The Midwesterner in me has almost forgotten what winter can really be like. Wasn’t it just last year that the flowers in the built-in beds on the back porch did not die off until December? Even though much of this fall has seesawed between heavy, wet snows and balmy sunshine, the extremes have been even more intense than is usual in Colorado. This week’s deep freeze has brought lighter snows, as well as revived memories of how cold winter really can be—and it’s not even winter yet.

Pinwheel in snow

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

I wanted to hunker down inside, especially after the weak sun had dropped from the sky, but two nights in a row my kids have had school events. As I hurried from not-so-warm car to warmer indoors, I was reminded of how bitter cold feels like a thief come to steal my last breath. Despite my protests otherwise, I am still an asthmatic, something I can almost forget in milder winters, especially if the air pollution isn’t too bad or I don’t get colds or flus.

My hands pick up every draft in buildings. Although I am cold year-round in the theatre, Tuesday night’s concert, spent seated next to the inside brick wall seemed even harsher, even though I wore my “creepy” compression gloves. The plaster wall in the auditorium last night felt a little less cool, but it was far from warm. My shoulders ache from involuntarily contracting in an effort to stay warm.

Oh, how spoiled I have been—and still am. The heat in my house stays at 68 during the day and I snuggle deep under warm blankets at night as the temperatures fall much lower, something I only notice as I foray out to the bathroom—or to let out a dog who does not know enough to stay still all night. However, if I stay up a little later than normal, the programmed drop in temperature sends me shivering to bed.

So this morning I contemplate whether this will be the winter when I might have to pay to run, from time to time. Today’s reasonable temperature forecast of 28 is tempered by a wind chill that might not lift. Of course, my inner former Nebraskan chides myself that I’ve encountered worse. The sun is shining and the weather is supposed to be much nicer than it has been. And really, it’s supposed to be 45 by Saturday.

I’ve bought another sweater for dealing with indoor chills. I’m looking at getting an additional pair of long underwear. I already own some warm high-tech running gear—which leaves me much better prepared for winter running than in those frigid Nebraska and Ohio winters of my youth. Now I just have to get myself out of my chair.

Wouldn’t my pioneer ancestors think this was a silly dilemma? They had no choice but to feed the livestock and keep moving, no matter the weather, no matter how low tech their clothes might have been. Of course, they also had no need to run for fitness—their whole lives were a fitness exercise.

Ah, this winter’s return exposes just how soft this modern woman has become.

Just deal with it already!

Trina, (c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

My nephew and his wife are going to have a baby this spring. I’ve seen the ultrasound pictures on Facebook—yes, the baby already has an electronic fingerprint in this world. Today’s images are so much clearer than those of my babies just under eighteen years ago. Sherman and I were lucky to distinguish a head from an abdomen! That’s why at the kids’ final ultrasound appointment, we both just stared in disbelief at the really accurate and serious technician who pointed at the screen and said, “Your daughter looks just like you.”

She was so right about that. I go to Back to School night or Parent Teacher conferences and the teachers tell me they know who must be my student. The thing is, Christiana’s more like her father. They are both cut from the “still waters run deep” cloth. With those two, heed the advice in the old adage: “Beware the anger of a patient man/woman.”

Well, Jackson and I aren’t nearly so patient. We fly off the handle easier, but we recover quicker. We’re both uptight about doing things just so—probably why neither of us wants to cook. We find it exhausting to measure everything so precisely. And then there’s the fact we both hate touching food while cooking. He loves to play games and I usually dislike playing them, but the other two hate to get in our way during our very competitive games of Boggle.

Noisy, overly talkative, distractible, able to memorize facts without much effort yet forgetful about what we’ve been doing, beyond exacting about certain things and totally unconcerned about others, unwilling to let go when accused of being wrong. You have never seen two harder heads when it comes to compromising with one another.

Jackson Lambert, (c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

And, yet, our outlooks on life are so different, the casual observer might miss the similarities. Even we might miss the similarities when we are locked in battle—until we laugh to realize that is exactly why we are so often engaged in our noisy disputes—just as why the other two are so often locked in frosty, silent stand-offs.

Still, most would say we don’t resemble each other at all physically, even though many have missed just how much Jackson looks like Sherman, simply because Sherman’s curly dark hair and his beard seem so different from Jackson’s wavy dark blonde hair and clean-shaven face.

I guess that includes the photo matching program on Christiana’s newly purchased iMac. How many times will that program ask if I am Jackson or if he is me? It could just be due to our similarly dark eyebrows—or maybe it sees more than just the physical. We are, after all, cut from the same not-so-smooth cloth.

One of the questions I always want to ask is what to do with your grief other than acknowledge it. When I tell people some of the things going on with my mom, they state how hard it must be for me. I agree, but like the dental hygienist said, “But what can you do but do what you have to do?”

Exactly. That’s why sometimes you don’t even know you’re going to feel sad. You’ll be sitting there in present time and something will remind you of how things used to be and, boom, you really remember your loss.

Today is the second Sunday in Advent, so the choir processed into the church singing “Prepare Ye” from Godspell, with a great deal of energy (especially for “Frozen Chosen” Lutherans!) to the rhythms of drums.

My mom would have loved it. As a church musician, she liked nothing better than to introduce new ways of worshipping, to keep the services both fresh and relevant to the current times. She really didn’t like doing things the way they’d been done forever if there were no liturgical or valid historical reasons for opposing the changes.

Mom was a bit of a rebel musically. This was the woman who let her early 70s swing choirs (in a small farming community in the middle of Nebraska!) wear psychedelic shirts and bellbottoms. The kids added electric guitar riffs and the beat of drums to piano accompaniment for music such as “California Dreaming.” No, we didn’t listen to rock and roll in our own home, but she listened to her students about music choice for school.

The 70s were a time of great change for churches. Though I was too young to be aware of it, there must have been a lot of discussion about how to appeal to the great mass of Baby Boomers. Nonetheless, many people thought there was no room for rock-influenced music in the church. Our minister, however, had a daughter who I don’t doubt argued for change at their family’s dinner table. At the same time, my mom was willing to lead a more casual-style youth choir.

Pretty soon we had a name for the choir, shirts in all colors of the rainbow, cut and sewn from sheets (Maria from the Sound of Music would have approved!), and a church banner for use during services when we sang. My mom’s choirs brought in the first drum set to our church, along with music from Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell. I know some weren’t happy, but this was a fairly young church, the locking orange chairs—no stuffy pews for us—filled mostly with families whose kids ranged from babies to teenagers.

That choir kept several kids—and not a few fathers!—from sleeping through the services, thanks to the vision and openness of a leader such as my mother.

So, forgive me for not singing along with the jubilant choir as they prepared the way. The service “stirred it up” even more when the sermon included visits from “crazy” John the Baptist and Saint Nicholas, along with sections from the Bob Marley song “Stir It Up”—accompanied by guitars, of course. All this my mother would have enjoyed.

And so I mourned that I could not share it with her, that she wouldn’t even recognize that thanks to people like her who prepared the way, we didn’t have to get all stirred up about humming along to a reggae song on a cold December morning—in church—but could instead really focus on just how much John the Baptist stirred up the world in the days before Jesus began to do his work on this earth.

Thanks, Mom, for preparing the way. Deep down, I am always stirred up by missing you, but not shaken from knowing who you were—to me and to others.

(c) 2008, Christiana Lambert

I feel like ranting—about almost everything it seems—so instead I think I’ll write something random about a less passionate topic. It’s December—who needs more irritation? Today I want to talk about my shoulders. How’s that for random?

You see, even when I was really skinny, I had broad shoulders and a big back. Turns out that’s not necessarily a good thing. Sometimes you develop those areas because you’re moving the wrong way and you’re letting the muscles in those areas overwhelm other muscles that should be doing some of the work. I used to run with too much side-to-side movement of the arms. And then, my posture wasn’t good so my shoulders rolled forward.

That went on even as I gained weight. I attributed much of the size, though, to that weight, when in fact, it was the muscular structure really adding to the problem. It wasn’t until I started doing yoga and Pilates that I found out how badly my shoulders were rounded, even compared to other people my age—or those much older. Certain poses were torture for my shoulders—and many still are. I couldn’t even do others, due to the lack of rotation in the shoulders. It took me three years to be able to do chaturanga—I didn’t really believe I’d ever be able to do it.

As I started to be able to move my shoulders back more, I noticed something in the mirror. Even without weight loss, I looked slimmer because the (more) proper shoulder position holds the arm in a more flattering position—plus the shoulders really aren’t as broad inch-wise in that position. Then meant when I did start losing weight, the area where the sleeves connected with the shoulders really began to bag.

I’ve, sadly, been putting a bit of weight back on lately. But I still can’t wear some of the nicer jackets and dresses I saved because they just sag on my shoulders. I know that with my new knowledge about shoulder positioning, that I won’t really regain to the same dimensions in those areas. Some clothing cuts will never work for me again because they are designed for women who have those broad shoulders caused by positioning—if I get that big in my shoulders again, it will mean I’m even bigger everywhere else! I really don’t want to go there.

This week, however, I’ll just stick with my current body dimensions. I had a hard time deciding which size to order from Lands End because their basic measurements don’t focus on the shoulder area. Well, I chose the wrong size after all. I was just a bit afraid if I just did an exchange without trying the smaller size on that it might be too small in other regions! That’s why I went in to Sears to make my trade. The Small fit perfectly on my shoulders and, thankfully, in other regions.

I still don’t think most would call my shoulders a “small”—well, other than businesses that are trying to flatter middle-aged women. I’ve got a lot more work to do to get my shoulders into proper position. Nonetheless, it’s pretty exciting to have the problem of not being able to fit into certain clothes thanks to holding my shoulders better than most after so many of years of having the opposite problem.

One day, I might even get rid of the pain caused by too many years of rounding those shoulders. The muscles are changing. I’m trying really hard to go all old-fashioned schoolmarm on myself when I catch the rounding. Just don’t expect to see me walking around with a book on my head!

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert