Life with Father (and Mother)

The loins of my fruitEvery year for the past several years, my parents have made the 12-hour drive from their home in North Alabama to Central Florida during the month of December, ostensibly to spend a week with their favorite (and only) son. This past December was no exception.

If you ever want to get a glimpse of why you are the way you are, just get in a room with your ancestry for about a week. It will either be sobering or fun. In the case of my parents, it’s always the latter.

They both have a wonderful sense of humor and love to remember the amusing things that have happened over the course of their years together. There is no dearth of stories to tell and they still love to tell them, lo these many years hence.

Although thankfully my dad has mellowed over the years as far as being a practical joker, he still loves to tell how he played a trick on my mother while they were stationed at Fort Dix in New Jersey (pre me). Here’s how it generally goes:

“I sat her down in the middle of the floor and gave her a fork; I had a glass of water and a towel. I poured the water on the floor in front of her between her legs and told her I bet I could wipe it up before she could stab me with the fork.

“Once she agreed to take me up on it, I got down in position. I said ‘Ready?’ She raised her fork and said ‘Ready’. I then grabbed her by the ankles and pulled her through the puddle of water.”

She didn’t stab him with the fork, although I’m sure there isn’t a jury alive who would have found her guilty if she had.

MaracasThen there was the time we were coming out of the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry when I was a teenager. A guy was sitting on the steps of the museum playing a tune on a small woodwind instrument.

“What’s that guy playing?” my dad asked.

“That’s a recorder,” I replied.

“No – I’m pretty sure he’s really playing it,” he replied in all seriousness.

Explains a whole lot about me…

Anyway, the Lounge doesn’t host many visitors (if one doesn’t count the lizards and the occasional mosquito squadron) so, due to my high tolerance for clutter and grime, the only room I keep in show-ready condition is the living room, just in case someone from Publishers Clearing House shows up on my doorstep with that big check for a million dollars. So when the ‘rents come a-calling a flurry of good housekeeping ensues.

After the requisite week-long cleaning and deodorizing assault on the Lounge prior to their arrival, I was down to the home stretch the Saturday morning they were supposed to get here, with only toilet-scrubbing and kitchen-mopping left on the checklist. My mom called around 11:00 that morning telling me they would be there in two hours – easily enough time to get done what I had left to get done.

I was standing there in my boxer shorts and socks, the still-dry mop in hand, when they walked in an hour later.

“You’re early.”

“I know – we made good time.”

“You’re early.”

“Traffic wasn’t bad at all.”

“You’re early.”

Once that bit of truth was firmly established, I suggested that I go get dressed. Of course, they’ve both seen me naked but it’s been more than 50 years, so…ewww. As I headed off to find some pants, I warned, “Don’t look at the floor.” (No doubt the first thing they did was look.)

Once I was clothed and we had hugs all around, we launched head-first into a week-long whirlwind of music, buffets, and Disney magic, despite their (our) advanced ages.

First on the agenda were two performances of my church’s Christmas program, with Sunday School and a Chinese buffet in between. Since I haven’t been a Christian, much less a church-goer, for very long, this is a fairly new addition to our December visit. And I must say, we put on a pretty amazing program at First Baptist Church at the Mall, complete with choir, full orchestra (with me at the piano), costumes, lighting, and theatre (I also wrote the dramatic presentation for this year’s performance). Being lovers of music, in addition to being lovers of me, my parents thoroughly enjoyed the program, almost as much as they enjoyed the Chinese buffet.

They’re kind of Chinese buffet royalty. I hear they even have their own table at the one in their small town in Alabama. I can only imagine the numerous paddies worth of fried rice and droves of sweet-n-sour pork they’ve scarfed down over the years. They avow that the buffet we always frequent after church isn’t as good as the one back home, but I’ve never seen anybody push away from the table hungry. Just saying…

An additional perk of their visit has always been spending several days at the Walt Disney World® Resort, although for some time now I’ve had the sneaking suspicion that seeing Disney is actually the whole point of the trip, with seeing me being merely the additional perk. (Sort of like the little moist towelette that comes with your meal at the rib place even after you’ve licked your fingers clean and don’t really need it.) They’ll tell you otherwise, but they also tend to cheat at miniature golf, so it’s hard to trust them. More on that later.

So, as we have for the past eight years, we spent the rest of the week at Disney, where we enjoyed our favorite attractions, shows, and holiday events at each of the four theme parks.

Rather than give a ride-by-ride account of our romp through the 47 square miles, four theme parks, and at least one of the miniature golf courses of the Walt Disney World® Resort, I’ll just hit a couple of highlights (skipping the endless buffet tour as well).

Although my parents are more “show” people than “ride” people, each year we wait in the longest line in the free world (except for the line at the grocery store when chicken is on sale) to ride Soarin’™, a ride that lifts multiple rows of seats up in the air in a simulated hang-gliding trip over California, complete with the wind in your air and whatever aromas one might encounter sailing over the various vistas of the Eureka state (pine forests, orange blossoms, or sea air). My mother always lets loose a little squeal of delight when the ride mechanism first hoists us up in the air. (I like to think that’s the same squeal she emitted when she first saw me.)

At some point during the week we also catch a performance of the Candlelight Processional at Epcot®, a presentation featuring choir, orchestra, and celebrity narrator telling the Christmas story through traditional carols and the story of Jesus’s birth from the Bible. This year’s narrator was Lorraine Bracco of The Sopranos fame.

Although we love the music, especially the finale performance of “Hallelujah!” from Handel’s Messiah, we all admit to being fascinated by the sign language interpreter. Depending on the individual interpreter, the signing of the lyrics of the carols in time to the music is more like ballet than mere communication, with majestic, sweeping motions and engaging, almost angelic, facial expressions. After the performance, we all give our evaluation: “She was OK, but she wasn’t as good as that guy last year…etc.”, as though we are the American Idol judges for sign language interpreters.

CheaterFinally, we always make time to compete against each other in the “Elderly Open”, our own annual miniature golf classic at Disney’s Winter Summerland Miniature Golf Course.

The golf course is designed to look like an elf-sized vacation spot, with one half depicting Santa and the elves vacationing in Florida (the Summer course) and the other depicting a golf course at the North Pole (the Winter course). We always play the Winter Course.

I was actually joking above when I said they cheat, since I’m always the one stuck with keeping score; however, I don’t understand how one or the other of them always manages to win. They may be old people, but they can both knock a purple or green golf ball over the little lift bridge and through the blades of the windmill into that little hole with alarming accuracy. If it wasn’t for watching them get sprayed with water when the snowman squirts it out of his carrot nose I wouldn’t continue to put myself through the humiliation of playing with them.

Anyway, we always have a lot of fun and I’m always sad to see them go (and not just because they always pick up the tab and let me drive their new keyless Nissan). They’re fun and laugh at all my jokes and love me with unabashed ferocity.

Can’t beat that. Even if they do cheat…

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From the mouths of cartoon characters

A Charlie Brown ChristmasIt has to be one of those quintessentially classic moments in television – a moment even better than the one when Bob Newhart woke up back in the bed with Suzanne Pleshette, his wife for six seasons on The Bob Newhart Show, after having apparently dreamed the entire eight seasons of Newhart; a moment even better than the one at the end of White Christmas when they opened those big barn doors to reveal it’s snowing outside just as they’re about to sing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.”

A moment better than those (and both of those rank up there on my list of classic moments).

It’s the moment in A Charlie Brown Christmas during rehearsal for the Christmas pageant when, frustrated by the materialism and commercialisation of Christmas, Charlie Brown cries out in desperation, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

In response, Linus – quirky, philosophical, security blanket-toting Linus – answers, “Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”

He steps downstage, blanket in tow, and calls out, “Lights, please.” The unseen but obedient lighting technician brings all the lights down to nothing but a spotlight on Linus.

He says (I’m tearing up just thinking about it):

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

“‘And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'”

Linus collects his blanket and walks back to his frustrated friend. “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Indeed it is.

Tonight was the Christmas Eve service at my church – a night of carols, communion, and candlelight, three of my favorite church-related “C’s”.

Everyone was given a candle when they entered the church. At the end of the service, the pastor lit his candle from the large Christ candle on the stage. He then lit the executive pastor’s candle, who lit someone else’s candle, who lit someone else’s, until the light was passed throughout the packed sanctuary of several hundred people. The house lights gradually were turned out as the room was filled with the strains of “Silent Night”, sung by candlelight.

The beauty of that moment ranked right up there with Linus reciting the Christmas story from the book of Luke.

As I watched the pastor’s single tiny flame multiply to fill the room, I couldn’t help but be struck by the thought that what I was witnessing was very much like the spread of the gospel.

It all started with Jesus, the light of the world, who spread His gospel message to the apostles; who, in turn, spread that message to “all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Those had to have been amazing, heady times in the life of the church.

But 2000 years later, that light hasn’t died or stopped spreading. No doubt it’s a bit dimmer in these troubled times than it was during that first century; but the light has never been in danger of being extinguished – and never will be.

So on this Christmas Eve, don’t leave the Christ child in the manger. That image is miraculous and sweet and a key part of God’s plan, but it was just the beginning of the story of His grace and His gift of salvation through the birth, life, and death of His son.

And if you know Him as your savior then you know that the best is yet to come.

Merry Christmas from “Live from the Lizard Lounge”.

Posted in Holiday. 1 Comment »

Holly Jolly Haiku revisited

Can you guess?I stumbled across this post from a couple of years ago and thought it needed to see the light of day again. Plus, it made me giggle.

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Here are some Christmas haiku I wrote. Actually, they’re haiku only because they have the proper number of syllables per line (5 for the first line, 7 for the second line, and 5 for the third line) and will never be a threat to the ancient art of haiku writing.

Still – they made my day merry and bright (and hopefully yours, too)!

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Ho, Santa, you elf –
Where’s my Blu-ray Disc player?
I wrote you last May…

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Nativity scene,
With painted figurines. Wait –
The dog ate Mary.

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Oh dear, Tannenbaum –
An entire string has burned out.
(Where is my receipt?)

.


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White Christmas dreaming?
Not here at the Lizard Lounge –
Temperatures rise.

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More cards in the mail.
There is glitter everywhere
There’s some on my nose.

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“Un-decking” the halls
Feels fa-la-la-la lousy.
(Is that more glitter?)

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As for the graphic,
A little visual pun:
“No L” (or “Noel”).

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Thank you for reading.
Christmas haiku? Kind of fun.
On to twenty-twelve!

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Midnight clear

Nativity

It’s quiet here at the Lizard Lounge tonight. It’s after midnight and I’m just getting back from the Christmas Eve service at my church, a beautiful evening of carols and candlelight.

Although it’s typically pretty quiet around here, what with all the dogs gone and the fact that no one lives here but me, tonight is really quiet; quieter than normal.

Christmas Eve has always been rather low-key and reflective for me, even when I was growing up. My mother, her two sisters, and my grandmother rotated hosting duties on Christmas morning, so we always had to get up at the crack of dawn and rush around to make our way to someone else’s house or get ready for everyone to come to ours. Since that annual ritual precluded a quiet Christmas morning at home with just our immediate family, we had that quiet family time on Christmas Eve instead.

Every year, my mother would gather us around the Christmas tree and read her favorite Christmas stories to us. These always included the Christmas story from Luke chapter 2 in the Bible, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement C. Moore (a.k.a. “The Night Before Christmas”), and a funny poem she liked called “Jest ‘Fore Christmas” by Eugene Field.

My daddy, my sister, and I would sit in the floor in our pajamas, wrapped up in blankets with only the lights from the Christmas tree and a candle for Mama to read by. She would read the story of Santa’s visit with the appropriate amount of exuberance and attempt to recreate all of Eugene Field’s colloquialisms in his poem about a young boy doing his best to be as good as he can be “jest ‘fore Christmas”.

Finally, she would read from the Bible in her melodious, alto voice – a voice that testified to the depth of her faith and a reverent understanding of the reality of the miracle that changed the world during those few hours in Bethlehem that night long ago.

Even as a kid, I understood why those Christmas Eves were sweet and precious.

As I got older and moved away, I thought it would be cool to be able to do whatever I wanted on Christmas Eve, even create my own Christmas traditions. But those dreams of big Christmas parties with friends never really materialized and my Christmas Eves as an adult have ended up looking a lot like the Christmas Eves of my childhood.

So, as I always do on Christmas Eve, tonight I turned off the lights except for the Christmas tree, lit a few candles, pulled all the Christmas-themed books off the shelves, turned the TV to the all-night fireplace channel with Christmas music (a 21st century addition to my repertoire), and settled in for a little holiday-themed reading – out loud (it has to be out loud).

This year, though, I added a new book to the stack. Tonight, in addition to reading “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “The Polar Express” and marveling at Robert Sabuda’s pop-up books depicting the 12 Days of Christmas and “The Night Before Christmas”, I also pulled out a book I’ve been reading daily for the past six months. This year, I turned in my Bible to Luke chapter 2, just as my mother did, and read those two-millennia-old verses about Jesus being born into the world as a child, coming to earth as God in human form. I read out loud in my baritone voice, a voice that, just like my mother’s, testifies to the depth of my much newer faith, but with a reverent understanding of the reality of the miracle that changed the world during those few hours in Bethlehem that night long ago.

Luke chapter 2, verse 7 in my Today’s New International Version translation tells how Mary “gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”

Those were humble beginnings for the King of kings; but I can assure you those accommodations were no mistake. It wasn’t as if someone forgot to book a room for Jesus’ arrival – those lowly surroundings showed the humanity of the Son of God.

You know, it’s sweet and warm to watch little children dress up in bathrobes and re-enact the Nativity, and I always get misty-eyed when Linus steps downstage into the spotlight in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” to recite the verses from the Bible that tell about Jesus’ birth; but the story by no means stopped there with the baby.

The world was in desperate need of Jesus when He came – sadly, things haven’t changed since then. Six months ago, I was in desperate need. I was doing everything I could to hide that, though, even from myself.

I was working my way through some personal losses with pretty good success. I gave to United Way and supported the American Cancer Society. I was a good neighbor, diligently puttering around the Lounge, taking care of my yard, and tending to my tomato plants. I took care of myself, exercising daily and making homemade soup. But I still had a hole in my life that nothing – or no one – could fill.

Well, someone could; someone did.

On June 17th God filled that hole – to the brim, with no room to spare. He offered me a gift better than any Christmas present I’ve ever been given. And I gladly accepted that gift. It wasn’t money or fame or anything we humans usually count as valuable. Instead, He gave me the gift of His amazing grace, a gift I didn’t deserve, but one that changed my life – forever.

You see, Jesus purposely set aside His deity in order to become one of us. He ate, drank, and slept; worked, loved, and socialized; and faced temptation, pain, and, most significantly, death. He became the only acceptable atonement for our sin, freely providing salvation – that gift of grace – for anyone who called on his name.

He wasn’t an unwitting martyr, a good man who accidentally got caught and punished. He unselfishly and willingly allowed himself to be put to death for me – for all of us. He was born knowing that was His role, knowing what His future held. In other words, His birth was only the beginning.

So tonight on this midnight clear, I’m sitting here in my little concrete block house in small-town Central Florida, quietly reflecting by candlelight on the baby who grew up not only to teach me how to live but to give me life – eternal life…

Merry Christmas and blessings from the Lizard Lounge.

Posted in Holiday. 1 Comment »

Yipee-ki-la-la-la-la

Top o' the treeBack when I lived in roomier digs I would spend numerous pre-yuletide hours, glue gun in hand, erecting a virtual faux forest of frasier firs decorated around various themes, including a Mardi Gras-themed tree and a one-of-a-kind black tree decorated entirely in silver.

No doubt it should be evident why I was then – and am still – single…

However, the limited square footage here at the Lizard Lounge is barely adequate to support the glittering behemoth currently decking my small-scale halls, already requiring that I edge around the place turned sideways to avoid swiping a bead or bauble off onto the floor. Factor in an electricity budget that forces me to stumble around by candlelight, and you can see how I’m forced to be a bit of a reluctant humbug when it comes to additional seasonal decor.

Nevertheless, I put another tree up. (The pull of the Christmas tree siren is just too strong this year.)

This one has a Western theme. It was created years ago to complement a Southwestern-inspired bedroom (remember that ill-conceived 80s decorating trend?) and is replete with strings of chili pepper lights, a red cowboy hat I found in the attic that year, and ornaments fashioned to look like cowhide and bandanas.

I doubt this whimsical tribute to the wild, wild west would be right at home on the range, but it might at least make Tex laugh when he saw it, in spite of himself.

Cowhide and bandanas

Be-decked

Lizard Lounge Christmas Tree 2010Once again, it’s that most wonderful time of the year – egg-nogging, cookie-hogging, gift-wrapping, credit-tapping, bell-ringing, carol-singing, tree-lighting, Santa-sighting time of the year.

I love Christmas. I’ve loved Christmas since I was young enough to toddle down the hallway of my childhood home on Christmas morn to a living room full of presents (at least it seemed full at the time). Of course there were few surprises amongst that pile, as I had personally made a comprehensive list of my Yuletide desires from the Sears catalog, including page number, item number, and color (if applicable). I had to be specific with Santa back then or else I might end up with the icky blue Hot Wheels Woody Wagon instead of the cool one with the tiny fake wood paneling. It could happen…

As I got older and toddled less, I outgrew Hot Wheels and began to focus on Christmas decorations, particularly the Christmas tree. Last year on “Live from the Lizard Lounge”, I detailed my copious experience with decorating Christmas trees. (The details were copious, too. Copious. Fa-la-la-la-sorry.) If you have a lot of time on your hands and could use a few continuing ed. credits for “A Know-it-All’s Guide to Christmas Tree Decorating 101”, then follow the link above and read away.

OrnamentsThis year, I promise to be a little less erudite and instructional since, as I mentioned last year, you really can’t go wrong when decorating a Christmas tree. (Unless you’re my granny, who used to get all the branches mixed up when she assembled her old artificial tree, with the longer branches sticking out of the middle or the top and the shorter ones sticking out at the bottom. In that case, it was possible to go wrong. Amusing, but oh so wrong.)

OrnamentsTo date, there are two faux tannenbäume decking the halls of the Lizard Lounge (if you don’t count the little trio of silver tinsel trees atop the ‘fridge and that green furry stuff growing in the shower). The “feature” tree reigns over the library/dining room/pass-through-to-the-kitchen and is pictured here in this post.

Everything on this imposing pre-lit pyramid of PVC is silver, gold, or some variation thereof (maybe we should just refer to all these colors as “precious metals”). However, unless you have a titanium card, a sugar daddy, or just robbed a bank, it’s probably not a good idea to plan on walking out of the store with everything you need to decorate a tree like this in one swell foop. The baubles and shiny gewgaws seen here are the result of 15 years of hunting and gathering, typically post-Christmas when retailers are desperate to unload their holiday decor at frighteningly low prices.

Decorating the Christmas tree each year is kind of like starting a weight-loss program – although I know it’s going to be beautiful when all the work is done and I’ll soon forget all the effort and sweating that went into it, I still dread that first step, whether it’s to take my life in my hands and wrestle the ton o’ tree box from out of the attic or to redecorate the entire house just to find a spot big enough to host it.

OrnamentsIn the end, though, when I’ve finished rummaging through the ornament box, rediscovering the tucked away trinkets that I get to enjoy for just a few short weeks each year, have found the perfect spot on the tree to showcase each one, and can finally stand back and bask in its mega-watt glow, I know that it will be totally worth the effort vacuuming up the glitter I’ll still find in March.

Fa-la-la-la-really.

Holly Jolly Haiku

Can you guess?Here are some Christmas haiku I wrote. Actually, they’re haiku only because they have the proper number of syllables per line (5 for the first line, 7 for the second line, and 5 for the third line) and will never be a threat to the ancient art of haiku writing. 

Still – they made my day merry and bright (and hopefully yours, too)! 


 
Ho, Santa, you elf –
Where’s my Blu-ray Disc player?
I wrote you last May… 


 
Nativity scene,
With painted figurines. Wait –
The dog ate Mary. 


 
Oh dear, Tannenbaum –
An entire string has burned out.
(Where is my receipt?) 


 
White Christmas dreaming?
Not here at the Lizard Lounge –
Temperatures rise. 


 
More cards in the mail.
There is glitter everywhere
There’s some on my nose. 


 
“Un-decking” the halls
Feels fa-la-la-la lousy.
(Is that more glitter?) 


 
As for the graphic,
A little visual pun:
“No L” (or “Noel”). 


 
Thank you for reading.
Christmas haiku? Kind of fun.
On to twenty-ten!