Sunday, December 22, 2013

Achieving Perfection -- The True Meaning of Christmas

            On December 14, the acting community lost a gifted member in the person of Peter O’Toole. In the days following his death, many people wrote at length about him and his incomparable talent and accomplishments. But the article that most resonated with me was a snippet which appeared in the Notable & Quotable section of The Wall Street Journal. In it, O’Toole was quoted from an interview he did in December, 2008, on TCM Word Of Mouth.
            "Many years ago I sent an old, beloved jacket to a cleaner, the Sycamore Cleaners. It was a leather jacket covered in Guiness and blood and marmalade, one of those jobs...and it came back with a little note pinned to it, and on the note it said, 'It distresses us to return work which is not perfect.' So that will do for me. That can go on my tombstone."
            In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I noticed many posts and re-posts on Facebook or  blogs concerning the “true meaning of Christmas.” Among the messages were those actions and sentiments we most often associate with this time of year: deeds of great kindness; declarations and demonstrations of love for friends and family; extreme generosity to those in need.
            Those expressions are indeed heartwarming and inspiring and should be shared, especially during a season when we desire to focus on what is best in mankind. But as I read that quote, I realized that even the best of mankind will never be perfect as long as we are on this earth. None of us will exit this life with a perfect body. Diseases, injuries, or old age will ravage our physical forms. Neither will we leave with a perfect record. No matter how hard we try, hurtful words, unkind acts, selfishness, and neglect will earn us a “Needs Improvement” on our earthly report cards. But unlike the conscientious folks at the Sycamore Cleaners, we needn’t be distressed. God knew humans would never be able to perfect their lives on Earth, so approximately 2000 years ago, He came to us in the form of a baby. That baby showed us what perfection is. And thirty-three years later, that baby made the supreme sacrifice so that we can return to our Maker as a perfect work.
 For me, that’s the true meaning of Christmas.

Wishing You Peace, Love, and Happiness this Christmas and in the New Year!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Zumba Gold - A Happy Balance Between Twerking and Two-Stepping

            If you follow my blog with any degree of regularity, you already know I’m all about “the middle”—finding that elusive balance between too much and too little, the right and the left, the ridiculous and the sublime. So when I discovered Zumba Gold at my local gym (KeyHealth Institute), I was excited. At last I had found an indoor activity that struck a perfect chord between insanity and inertia.
            It took me a while to hop on the Zumba Gold bandwagon. Last winter, I started with a regular Zumba class when the thumping beat of the Latin music caught my attention. I peeked through the window at a class in session, and while it looked a little fast and tricky, I figured I could pick it up in short time. Wrong. After the third session, I was still at least two beats behind everyone else in the class and still zigging when everyone else was zagging. Worse, at the end of the class, I was sweating like a farm hand in August and gasping for air. I was also popping Aleve tablets to relieve my aching knees and back. Disappointed and irritated at having to admit defeat, I resorted to the drudgery of the elliptical to get my winter aerobic fix.

Our fearless and creative
leader, Sheri.
            Then this winter, some ladies in my Pilates class insisted I join them in Zumba Gold. I made excuses because I’d tried Zumba Gold once. Quite frankly, not a lot of pep there. I’d felt like I was marching in a parade--a very slow parade. But one day after suffering through another mind-numbing session on the elliptical, I peeked in on the current Zumba Gold class. Something had changed. There was a lot of quick-stepping, high-kicking, hip-swaying, and arm-flinging. There was also a lot of laughing and shouting. In no way did it resemble the Zumba Gold class I’d previously attended or any I’d viewed on YouTube. So I joined in.
            Two months later, I can’t wait for Tuesday and Thursday mornings. It’s hard to describe the attitude adjustment these classes provide. Let’s just say that anytime you “dance like there’s no one watching,” you’re naturally going to feel better. But most of the credit goes to our instructor Sheri Chenevert, who choreographs all sorts of fun and do-able steps and movements, and to the lively ladies who make up the class. With some ex-dancers and ex-cheerleaders in the mix, things can really get hoppin’. Literally.

My videos don't do these ladies justice, but you can get the idea that they can "bust some moves"!

Have a favorite exercise you'd like to share?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Not Your Ordinary Christmas Tale

The Christmas Pageant:
A tradition that never grows old.

            This morning, near the end of our church’s Advent Celebration service, children paraded down the aisle, dressed in the familiar attire of shepherds, wise men, and angels. The pint-sized actors gathered around a manger, where “Mary” gently tended the baby Jesus and “Joseph” helped her keep watch over him.
            Watching that timeless scene unfold, I was reminded of my very favorite Christmas story, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. First published in 1972, the story probably wouldn’t clear all of today's “politically-correct” hurdles as there is something in it to offend just about everyone at least once.  There are church gossips and busybodies, there are schoolyard name-calling and bullying. A good case could be made that it contains child abuse and even—heaven forbid!—cruelty toward a cat.  
You can see from my copy
of this book it is well read.
            But, for me, this is the quintessential Christmas story (besides, of course, the original one). No matter how many times I read this little book or see the play, I laugh out loud at the antics of the  incorrigible Herdmans, a ragtag collection of siblings who terrorize an entire town and threaten to hijack the annual Christmas pageant. But always by the end of the story, I’m in tears. When I read about Imogene Herdman crying as she performs her role as Mary, I think that perhaps no other “actress” has ever taken the assignment so much to heart. And when Gladys Herdman “with her skinny legs and dirty sneakers sticking out from under her robe” yells “Hey! Unto you a child is born,” she embodies the excitement that must have filled the first heralds of that message.
            Yes, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever isn’t your typical, reverent Christmas story. But I think it’s one of the best because it deals with an imperfect world and the  imperfect people who inhabit it. Ultimately, it is the story of transformation and redemption. And, after all, isn’t that what Christmas is about?
            Have a favorite Christmas story you’d like to recommend?