Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Few (More) of My Favorite Things

In Christmases past, I’ve posted about some of the things that put me in the spirit of the season and the thing that turns me into a proper Grinch. (Think Dirty Santa.) This year, I’m sticking with the “nice” rather than the “naughty” in comprising my list. While these items might be a bit unusual, I’ve found them to be invaluable in sparking or enhancing my holiday mood.
1. Wire ribbon – Years ago, I embraced wire ribbon with open arms and admit I might go a little overboard with it. It makes decorating a snap for those of us who are digitally challenged. With wire ribbon, my bows are now flouncy and fabulous.
2. LED lights – I think it was Christmas 1987, when my mother, my aunt, and I loaded up the car with kids to pursue the time-honored tradition of looking at Christmas lights.  This was the early days of spectacular civic light displays, so we headed toward the extravaganza that had popped up just off the highway on the edge of town. We wound through acres of East Texas piney woods that had been transformed into a fantasy land. Thousands...nay, millions of lights twinkled and flashed, drawing oohs and aahs from even the adult passengers in the car. At the exit, my aunt voiced the horror that only people of a certain age can appreciate: “I wonder if these are the kind of lights that when one bulb goes out, they all do.”
I tell that story to reinforce how grateful I am for the advances made in the Christmas light industry. This year I purchased new strings of LED lights that are guaranteed to last ten years. TEN YEARS! Think of it! For ten years I don’t have to worry about putting up strings of lights, only to have the middle string go out two nights before Christmas.
3. Extension cords and three-way connectors – While we’re on the subject, anyone who has ever put up outside lights knows that that house-lighting scene in Christmas Vacation is really no laughing matter. Few tasks are as maddening in the season of peace and good will as getting strings and strings of lights properly connected. The job requires the patience of a saint. An electrical engineering degree comes in handy, too. This year, even with the few strings I put out, I faced a particularly challenging situation. I was able to solve it with an extra extension cord and a three-way connector. So far the house hasn’t burned down. Talk about a Christmas miracle.
4. Silver, gold, and white – I once had a pilates instructor (blonde and millennial) who claimed her favorite color was “shiny.” When it comes to Christmas, she and I are on the same page. And when it comes to shiny, nothing gives you more bang for your buck—or flash for your cash—than gold, silver, and white ornaments. Add some crystal icicles and glittered grapes, turn on the tree lights and Wham! The bling is blinding.
5. Wax warmers – Burning down the house with electrical cords and connectors isn't a huge concern of mine. Burning it down with a candle is. So while doing early Christmas shopping this year, I bought myself a gift—an electric wax warmer. With a fake tree and fake greenery, let’s just say the perfume of pungent pine never permeated my house. But this year—thanks to my wax warmer—the scintillating scent of cedar does. (I know. I get carried away with alliteration.) Let me add this one caveat: No matter how effective a wax warmer may be, it’s no match for steamed Brussels sprouts. Just sayin’. 
6. Fairy lights – Yes, we’re back to lights again. My favorite southern writer, Rick Bragg insists that it’s “lights of color...that mean Christmas,” but he and I will just have to differ on this one. While I admit the intense hues of those trendy, new lights do create a giddy and gaudy glow, for me nothing creates a wonderland like white lights. And if they happen to be reflecting off snow, it’s a magical bonus.  
Like I said, a rather strange list, but they truly are small things that have added to my enjoyment of the season. In summary and in the spirit of sharing, let me wish you...

                        Flouncy bows,

                        bulbs that won’t fail,

      scents that remind you of a forested vale.

                        May the sparkle of Christmas be yours to discover
                                                                                            in twinkling lights...
   ...no matter the color.
Have a blessed Christmas!     

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Surprised by Enjoyment

Disregarding some advice I was given long ago, I’m beginning with an apology. I apologize for including personal information in a review—something that should be about the book, not the reviewer. But in order to explain how much I enjoyed reading Women and C. S. Lewis, I feel it’s important to explain the expectations with which I approached that task.
I was given a copy of this book along with a request for a review by Carolyn Curtis, one of the editors. Having read a couple of Lewis’ books and watched Shadowlands and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I was an admirer of the man but not what you would call an ardent fan of his work. Surprised by Joy was a pleasurable read for me, but Mere Christianity required careful and time-intensive processing. I assumed this book would be much the same and, frankly, wasn’t too excited at the prospect of such heavy reading. But Curtis was such a delightful person, I couldn’t refuse. And I’m so glad I didn’t. The book, while written by erudite and scholarly contributors, is far from heavy-handed or complicated. Once I began reading, I found it absorbing. Divided into brief, manageable sections, the book lends itself to being read in short increments. But individual essays/interviews were so engaging I couldn’t wait to dive into the next one. I finished it in four days. (And I’m a slow reader.)
Two questions drive the content of this book: Was Lewis a sexist, even a misogynist, as many critics have labeled him? Is his work relevant and does it speak to our current culture? In regard to the first question, the book offers so much evidence refuting the charges—the women in Lewis’ own life, excerpts from his writings both public and private—as to make the accusations appear   ludicrous. Indeed, such charges put Lewis in good company. The same ones have been hurled against Jesus and the Apostle Paul, two figures who have done more to change attitudes toward women than any other in history.  Concerning the second question, the book was an eye-opening experience for me. I was born in the US, came of age in the sixties, and entered the workforce in the seventies. I also grew up surrounded by Christian friends and family. Benefitting from the support of those around me and from the hard work of so many who came before me, I never felt held back or less valuable because I am female. Reading this book, however, made me realize how ego- and ethnocentric I have become. It reminded me of the severity and extent to which injustice toward women (and men) exists in the world. It convinced me that, in today’s climate, communicating the “high view” Lewis held of women is more critical than ever.
For me, one of the hallmarks of a good book is that the reader can glean “extras” from it, whether or not intended by the writer(s). Among the extras I gained from this book:
1) Confirmation that Christians aren’t stupid - In an increasingly secular culture, the media love to portray Christians as knuckle-dragging troglodytes—persons who exchange all intellect and reason for emotion and superstition. While Christianity does indeed involve edification of the heart and spirit, this impressive group of writers, scholars, and thinkers proves that the brain doesn’t have to be sacrificed in the process.
2) A re-vamped and compelling TBR list – The extensive references throughout this book to Lewis’ works, both fiction and nonfiction, have kindled a fire in me to read them. As a child, I never read The Chronicles of Narnia, but at the conclusion of this book, I immediately ordered a boxed set for my grandsons. And I plan to read it along with them!
3) Confirmation that the difference between the sexes matters far less than the difference between the “fallen” and the redeemed - The overarching purpose of Women and C. S. Lewis is to examine the charges of sexism leveled against him. But excerpt after excerpt from his post-conversion writings reveals Lewis’ guiding purpose in his own writing was to share his joy at discovering “... the dignity of a free moral agent made in God’s image to live a life worthy of my creator.” Certainly a message needed by all, regardless of their sex.