Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Ultimate Christmas Present

Remember the year of the Cabbage Patch Kid?

It was the year that everyone in the universe decided they had to have a doll with a rubbery head, simple yarn hair, and a cloth body.  They came in boy and girl models, so all the boys and all the girls wanted one.  They did not light up, walk, talk, or connect to our computers.  (This is probably a good thing, since in the mid-80s, all computers really did was play Pong and maybe give you dot-matrix printouts on computer printers that we had to load with special paper with perforated sides with holes in them.)  Cabbage Patch Kids were decidedly low tech. We wanted them SO BAD.

Parents and other grownups began appearing on the TV at night, in dire stories featuring mug shots taking after the latest fight.  In one story, reportedly, a woman in a babushka aimed a flying roundhouse kick at an off-duty police officer buying ice cream for his Little Brother, and a scuffle ensued, with a huge fight in the middle of the store aisle.  I'll never forget the images from the news that night as they dragged that nun away, screaming "You'll never get my orphans' cabbage patch kid!" while the firefighters hosed everyone in the vicinity, gleeful that the dolls were finally theirs.

My parents solemnly sat us down and explained that they would not be joining those adults on TV, and they would never fight other people for a toy, and we would not be getting a Cabbage Patch Kid.

Christmas Eve came.  As a child with Portuguese heritage, Christmas eve meant three things: we always went to church, we always ate codfish balls, and we always spent time with my mom's side of the family.  Those were great nights.

But then came a big surprise:  my brother and I were told that we could have one present from Santa... early!

We were both given a large box, which we naturally immediately destroyed.  Inside the destruction, we both found... a Cabbage Patch Doll.

Terror rose swiftly in both of us.  We had seen, first hand, the shame of children who went to the playground with fake Cabbage Patches.  There were signs of real-ness which were essential to avoiding playground shame, including the doll's belly button and the signed butt.  We had both seen the bullies who exposed button-less-bellies of "fake" dolls, and to this day, I'm not sure those children have ever recovered from the shame.

My brother rammed his hand down the nightclothes of his doll, longing, fear, anticipation all etched on his face until his little hand found the belly button.  "He's REAL! He's REAL!"  he started screaming.  I was busy seeking my own doll's bottom to look for the cursive writing, because everyone knew that real Cabbage Patches had signed butts.  I've got some speech issues, so I'm not sure how coherent I was in that moment when I found the writing and knew finally that the dolls were real Cabbage Patches.

This is Melissa. 

This is Melissa's bellybutton.

The real Christmas miracle that year was learning that we had parents who knew how to bend the rules and to get around the unimportant stuff to thrill their kids with what was really essential.


Codfish balls.


Dolls with belly buttons and cursive writing on the butt.

I didn't post a picture of the doll's tush, where you can still see the writing years later. That's partly because posting a doll butt just seems too weird for the internet, and partly because the writing includes real names and the year of 1985, and I try to keep real names private.  

In 1985, I was 6.  You see, at that age, neither my brother nor I could read cursive.  All we knew was that the squiggly writing was important.

We got our real dolls, with the belly buttons and the signed butts that night.

It would be a few years before we'd be able to read cursive and would learn that the writing on the butt was our mom's own name.  She'd found a kit somewhere and stitched them together secretly in the late nights.  But we didn't know that then...  all we knew was the our dolls had a belly button and cursive writing on the butt.


Best.  Christmas.  Ever.

Oh, it was pretty great that neither of our parents had gotten arrest for fighting while Christmas shopping.  That would have embarrassing.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Year's End

These are the Zombie Portuguese dolls.  When I was a little girl, someone in my family gifted me with this set of dolls dressed up in Portuguese clothing- the little black biretta on the boys and the 17 skirts on the girls.

For some reason I was terrified of them.   Perhaps it is because their eyes broke early on, forever rolling up in their heads and revealing the empty stare of blue plastic.  I became convinced that the dolls were alive and attempted to throw them out.  (I'd seen snatches of Chucky playing at the video store.  I knew how to take my movies seriously.)

No matter what I did, the dolls always returned.  I'd find them under the bed... sitting on the bookshelf... laid casually at the foot of the stairs.

This only increased my terror of the dolls.  In fact, perhaps it had something to do with my deep fondness for both Little Pony and G.I. Joes.  Little Pony never looks like possessed zombies in traditional Portuguese clothes, and I was confident that G.I. Joe could kick the zombie's butts if need be.

I thought I had thrown them out for the last time when I moved out and took my stuff out of the basement.

When my parents bought their new house and moved thirty miles away, I found the dolls in a box in the attic.

I threw them away again, cackling in glee, convinced they could never survive a moving-house purging.

Last year, my mother found them... in a box, in the Christmas stuff.

She cackled with glee herself.  And put them in her Christmas tree where they probably still are to this day.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


So today I ran a 5K.  I ran the Jingle Bell Run with The Boss.  He'd been doing "Couch-to-5K" and wanted something else to do, so I suggested we run a race.  He found the Jingle Bell Run and off we went.

For the first time in my life, I almost missed the race.  The town of Eugene does not have its park parking lots street addresses listed.  So the address to which GPS, iPhone, and the town's own website directed me to was somewhere in the middle of nowhere or perhaps at the back of the park... nowhere near parking, packet pickup, or porta-potties.

And I'd had a LOT of coffee this morning.

Let's just say there was some frantic calling of The Boss, some driving while simultaneously GPS-correcting and phone-wangling, and finally, a desperate pull over to the side of the road when I saw two people wearing santa hats and candy cane codpieces to ask for directions.  God bless the candy cane codpiece couple.  They got me right on track.

The Boss declared I'd outrun him as he planned to run a 10:00 mile and just wanted to finish.  I was feeling extremely tired after a long drive to Portland yesterday and being up late, so I was fine with slow.

Then The Boss took off and held this punishing pace of 9:12.  Um, yeah, my average pace so far has been in the 9:40s.  So this was 30 seconds faster than I normally run.  I hate it when my body proves how much harder I can push it.  It was a hard run, but a good hard run.

You see what pushing things does to me?  I start saying things like "good" and "hard run" in the same sentence, AND I'M A CYCLIST!  I'm not supposed to enjoy hard runs.  They are supposed to make me suffer.

The course was mostly nice and flat with a charming little uphill swell right in the middle.  We only saw Santa at the beginning of the course, though, and the carolers weren't caroling for us as we ran off.  However, the race director had a charming touch of using a giant candy cane as the front-of-the-race pace pole.  Near the turnaround, I saw the fast people chasing the kid with the cane.

As always, the first mile and a half were misery and pain and blackness of the dark night of the Achilles tendon.  But around mile 1.5, something cleared up and the running became smooth and easy.  I'm starting to associate that with finally getting fully warm.  It takes me a LONG time to get happy, but once I hit that happy point, it's... easy to hold a strong pace.  So the second half of the race was pretty charming and happy.  Even my tight hip flexor was warm and mobile.


Nearing the end, The Boss had a strong sprint left in him, and I managed to drag myself over the finish line in a surprising 28:40.  The Boss's wife, being sharp of eye and attuned to what her husband and I REALLY run races for, pointed us to the many boxes of pizza. Bless you, Boss' Wife, for you do rock greatly.  Whatever ire was left from the getting-lost situation earlier dissolved as I saw what looked like dozens of pizzas- ample pizza for everyone- and floated away on a sea of pepperoni steam.  Maybe all winter races should provide steaming hot pizza.

I've just checked the official results, and discovered to my shock that I was actually 3rd in my age group.  The unofficial results had me at #5 in my age group, so we didn't stick around.  And now I've discovered that I won a ribbon, and blithely strolled away from my first running ribbon and podium finish here in Eugene!

Good job to The Boss for a strong run!  Clearly, we need to do this again, because he's got a lot of speed left to build, and I must go get another ribbon.  And now that I've discovered that I can hold a 9:14 pace, there's no more 9:40 slacking off for me.  I'm ruined, I say, ruined.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

In a Rut?

I was having coffee this morning with a dear retired guy from our community (over at Provisions in the 5th St. Market which has a delightful salted caramel latte, wowsers, the amazing coffee in this town!) when we started talking about our past lives.  In my first job, I lived in Arlington VA.  I loved that city.  I had a palace of an apartment on the 7th floor of a high rise.  It had a hallway, a gas stove, a balcony, and it was 800 square feet of heaven.  I lived above Bob and Edith's diner (which was across the street).  And just down Columbia Pike, there was a sweet little Thai place.

Being single, I resolved I would not allow myself to molder alone in my apartment.  I took myself out to dinner at least once a week, table for one, thank you.  The Thai place quickly became a favorite.

I love Thai food, and my little benchmark is the panang curry.  I don't care about anything but how they make their panang.  If the panang is good, I return.  I know this is illogical and probably bad form and that judging a Thai place on the strength of the panang curry is probably like judging a Mexican place on the strength of its frozen margaritas, but this how my taste buds work and I stand by my unfeeling snap judgements.  Be glad that I'm a priest and not your kid's elementary choir director, ok?

I had always considered myself an adventurous eater, and in fact, had visions of being the sort of person who would walk into restaurants, be greeted by name by the hostess who would show me to my favorite stool and give me a drink and a Christmas card, and then be welcomed by the chef, who would (in my fantasies) come out of the kitchen for me, his most adventurous customer.  "Ach," would say the chef, "You are always such a delightful, unpredictable person.  I revel in the fantastic flights of creativity to which you inspire me!"  And I would try every dish on the menu.

Until the day came when I walked into my favorite Arlington Thai place, and the waitress greeted me by name, showed me to my favorite table, and, giggling, said, "OK, I get you your panang now, OK?"

To my abject horror, I was in a rut.

I stuttered and got a menu, and ordered a pad Thai even though I don't like pad Thai and wasn't eating chicken at the time, because it was different gawdammit and I was going to be unique.

I swore I'd never be in a rut again.  At least not foodwise.

Here in Eugene, I read a blog post by a parishioner in which she references the Oscar Meyer wiener song.  Being overcome by the desire for a hot dog (I usually never eat hot dogs and don't really like them all that much, but sometimes, desire is inexplicable and visceral, and I am very sorry), I headed across the street to the closest place I know for hot dogs:  Dickie Jo's.

Dickie Jo's holds a special place in my heart.  On my interview weekend, the priest-in-charge took me and Martin there, and I walked in, and saw an entire row of jars and jars of Siracha sauce.  In Connecticut, people make fun of me for my deep love of Siracha, and here it was IN PUBLIC.  My heart sang, and my spirit rejoiced.  And they have an excellent veggie burger.  Since then, Dickie Jo's and I have had a very special sort of relationship.

Today, I walked in, and the counter staff's eyes light up and they greet me and start pulling out the water glass and say, "The veggie burger for you today?"  And I shuffled my feet and stared at my grey cowboy boots in shame, and discovered...

I now have a food rut here in Eugene.

And I stammered out, "Actually, no, I'm here for a hot dog today.  And no fries."

That'll show them how wildly adventurous and creative I am.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Advent Waiting

Last year's Christmas Card, captioned "Because Advent Waiting is Different for Everyone".  This is the Countdown to Christmas Nativity set, which encourages adding extra animals.  M took it on himself to add the Red Tide.  

Advent means different things to everyone.  This year, we are in a new state on a new coast.  We've moved about as far away from our earlier life as you could while still remaining in one country.

Advent this year is a welcome new year.  No more grad school or board certification interviews.  No more proving ourselves.  Just some time to just be.

With apologies for the crummy picture, this is one of the coolest Nativity sets ever.  (It flips over to become a Lent set.)  

Advent comes just before Christmas.  This one is tough, because I usually like giving and receiving gifts.  My favorite way is "family unit gifts" where each family unit gives something to the other family units, to enjoy as a group.  Cookies, a Wii game, something like that.  But this year I just have no energy for shopping or sending.  I don't even have energy to drag the Countdown Nativity set out, and I love the Countdown Nativity set.  I want to sit in my de-cluttered, minimally decorated living room with non-seasonal knitting and drink non-Christmassy drinks like gin and tonics and watch zombie shows on TV.

I love Advent and I love the quiet time my parish is setting up.  I love the work.  I love the season.  I just don't have any energy at all for the secular side of it this year- the Christmas tree and the spending and the eating and all that.

I wonder if I have gone Full Scale Scrooge, or if I'm having some sort of reaction to the overselling from merchants since September.  I confess I want to go to Nordstroms partly because they refused to decorate until after Thanksgiving.  And I refuse to shop at Best Buy this year because they wrote about how much they wanted to stay closed on Thanksgiving but felt pressure from other retailers to open.  (My response: have some balls, Best Buy, and stay closed, and tell people about it.)

In the meantime, I am enjoying my quiet Advent day of reflection (part of which included the reflection above) and am looking forward to heading home in a few hours to do some non-seasonal cooking.

Most interestingly, I played a role I think we had not anticipated: Quiet Day Chaplain.  A solid handful of people came to talk quietly about some of the spiritual work they were doing today and it was some fascinating conversations indeed.  On one hand, I feel I am so not qualified to be hearing these stories and confessions and wonderings and to be offering any kind of a response.  But on the other hand, it's kind of what I felt like I was born to do- it was one of those days when things just fit.

I loved the Quiet Day part of Advent, and feel actually ready now for the season.  Though still not ready for the shopping!

Perhaps I'll bake my famous Star Wars Christmas Cookies for the teens sometime this month.  Nothing says Christmas like a Darth Vader cookie with peppermint royal icing on the back, right?
Oh, yeah!  Just try to tell me you don't feel the holiday spirit coursing through you already.