We pause between holiday church music marathons

Whoever decided to put Christmas on a Friday was not thinking about church musicians who would be thrust into a marathon that would leave them with shredded voices, weary fingers, and monotonous Christmas carols playing endlessly in their heads. Four days in a row of church music! This week we get to repeat the exercise with Masses for New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Saturday vigil and then Sunday. If this doesn’t get us into heaven, nothing will.

Unfortunately, we have a memorial service this Wednesday right in the middle of it all. Tom Taylor, a longtime choir member and wonderful human being, died suddenly last Monday of a stroke. He and his wife Sally were getting ready to head to Washington to spend Christmas with their children. She went out for a little while, came back and found him on the floor. We will miss Tom terribly, and we hurt for Sally. It’s definitely a lesson that we never know when God will call “Time!” and all the earthly stuff we put ourselves into a dither about won’t matter.

I won’t be at the service. I’m having an endoscopy, a procedure in which the doctor sends a little camera down my throat into my guts to see what’s going on in there. I’m thinking he’ll find a pile of musical notes, with the edges of all those sharp notes poking my stomach.

Meanwhile, back in California, my family saw the advantage of having a judge living in the house. On Christmas Day, my brother the judge performed a marriage ceremony for his son and his fiancée right there in the living room. Total surprise to most of the family. Congratulations, William and Courtney.

Christmas wasn’t so happy for some families living at the north end of our little town of Newport. With the ground saturated by record-setting rainfall (25 inches so far just in December), portions of two houses slid into the ravine behind them, and several others may slide off, too. The residents of the damaged and endangered homes were evacuated with no chance to grab anything or make any plans. Luckily, no one was hurt. These houses are across the street from a friend’s house. I saw them on Christmas Day. Wow. Again, you never know when everything will change in an instant.

All those Masses were exhausting. So many songs, with a varying cast of singers who may or may not have known the songs when they arrived. Sitting, standing, kneeling, singing, chanting, praying, communions, collections. Red and green clothing everywhere. Between Masses, gifts, wrapping paper, ribbons, cookies, chocolate truffles, bourbon balls, singing the same songs again and again, hearing them on the radio, on the TV, in the stores. Christmas trees, Christmas lights, elves on shelves, lines at the gift exchange counter.

Then bam, it’s over and we’re back to walking the dog in the rain and hoping the money lasts until the end of the year—which is this week! For some, the events of the last two weeks have changed their lives forever. For most of us, we’ll be trying to shake “Jingle Bells” and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” until Valentine’s Day and trying to get back on our diets to lose the extra pounds we’ve gained.

One more good thing happened recently. A new book called Biting the Bullet: Essays on the Courage of Women came out on Dec. 19. It includes an essay of mine titled “Tubes.” You might want to buy a copy.

I hope your holidays have been happy and full of blessings, and that 2016 is a fantastic year for all of us. Feel free to share your holiday experiences in the comments.

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If You Can’t Kill Them, Claim Them as Your Garden

Vines on fenceI spent a lot of the Fourth of July weekend in hand to vine combat with wild berries. I believe in letting wild things grow, but when they attack my house and make it difficult to walk through the yard, I have to attack back. My garden pretty much consists of plants that planted themselves. Invasive plants, the rest of the world calls them, plants that grow wherever they want and keep expanding their territory. Blackberries, thimbleberries, salmonberries, huckleberries. Salal, sword ferns, foxglove, poppies, ivy. And honeysuckle. Just when I learn what those flowers are and start thinking I’m lucky to have them, I discover that they too are invasive plants. Looking more closely, I see that they’re already battling for space with the berries out front.

ThimbleberriesReal gardeners would get in here with a chain saw or a tractor and cut all this stuff out so we could plant something pretty that knows its place in the garden. But why cut out plants that are hardy and attractive just because we don’t think they should be there? Okay, I’m a little angry at the berries that are choking my big hydrangea plant to death. But in most of the yard, I have neither the time nor energy to clear, plant and tend a garden, so why not let Mother Nature take care of it? What gives a human being the right to clear a rectangle in the forest and kill anything that threatens to come in? If you can’t beat ‘em, let ‘em grow, right?

However, just like they’re choking the hydrangea, the berries were also threatening to overwhelm me and my house. They were pushing against the fence and the deck to the point where I had to fight back so that I could walk the path to my gate without thorny branches grabbing my hair and my clothes. I suffered endless thorn pricks to my hands as I cut and cut, trying to take back my one-third acre of land. I cut enough to fill the 96-gallon compost cart and more, yet it’s hard to tell I did anything because there is so much plant life.

Foxglove and berriesBack in California, they’re suffering from the drought. Only the hardiest plants will survive. My father’s planted berry vines have dried into brown strings with a few berries shriveled up like raisins. We’re short on rain here in Oregon, too. Numerous counties have declared drought emergencies. But on the coast, even after a month with no measurable rain, everything is blooming, growing, and threatening to break down the fences.

Salmonberry shootWith my little clippers, my loppers and my yellow wheelbarrow, I fight to protect my space by cutting a little here and there and claiming the rest as my bountiful garden. As for the sore muscles and the bloody cuts where the thorns got me, I consider them badges of honor. I held the enemy off again.

Meanwhile, my dog Annie is already eating blackberries on our hikes. To her, the world is one big smorgasbord. Who’s to say she isn’t smarter than we are?

The Attack of the Compost Cart or People are Biodegradable, Too

I’m weird. Who else do you know who yearns for a big green compost cart from the garbage company? Here in the wilds of South Beach, just outside Newport City limits, we watched our city friends and neighbors getting carts, but not here. I called.Compost cart

“When can we have ours?”

“You live in the county. Maybe next year.”

“But what am I supposed to do with my grass and tree trimmings in the meantime?”

“You can bag them up for the landfill or drive them to the dump.”

I chose to let them pile up in the yard, with vague plans to buy a burn barrel and fill the neighborhood with smoke and ashes like some of my neighbors do.

But finally, finally, the compost carts came to our neighborhood. Except my street, all four houses. I called.

The lady on the phone laughed. “Most people are calling to complain that they don’t want them. We will deliver your bin on Friday.”

Wahoo!

It was like waiting for Santa at Christmas. I looked out the window every five minutes until finally, a little after noon, there it was, a 96-gallon monstrosity that dwarfed my 65-gallon recycle cart and my 24-gallon garbage/landfill cart. I couldn’t wait to start piling stuff inside. Soon my yard would be so clean and neat. As soon as the rain stopped gushing down, I’d get to work.

Saturday morning, I put on my sweats and garden gloves, said hello to my pristine compost cart and started piling in branches, mostly out-of-control wild blackberry vines I had trimmed away from the house. Then I moved to the big pile that has been composting naturally on the side of the house for years and started shoveling in branches, dried-out hydrangea blooms, weeds and grass.

The trouble arose when I decided to move my three-quarters-full, chest-high cart without shutting the lid. Somehow, it became unbalanced and tipped forward. At the same time, the lid clopped me in the face and I fell in, banging my shoulder hard and my knee almost as hard. Down we went, me and the cart full of thorny branches. Bang! Crap! Ow! I was in the cart.

Slowly, I pulled myself out, hoping I wasn’t broken. I could feel my pulse in my cheek, an ache in my knee, a twisted-out-of-whack feeling in my back, and serious pain in my shoulder. Not good for a musician who would be playing the piano at church in a few hours. Gingerly I moved my limbs and determined that I was not broken, only bruised. I thanked God.

I pulled up my cart, dug my gloves out from under the greenery, and gently shut the lid. Okay, cart, you win this one, but I’ll get you on Thursday, when I stuff in more grass, add my grapefruit rinds, tea bags, and chicken bones and haul you to the curb with all the other carts. Then the garbage truck will lift you up, dump you out, and smack you back to the ground while I relax on my loveseat with the dog.

Today I’m fine except for a sore but functional shoulder. Sometimes I feel like a very small woman trying to maintain a very large home. A condo somewhere with other old widows and a staff of professional maintenance people is starting to look more appealing every day. Also, it occurs to me that someday I will be compost, too. But not yet. I have to mow the lawn. And yes, I do get the irony of trying to control what grows on a one-third acre parcel in the middle of the forest.