xmlns:og>='http://ogp.me/ns#'> Pedals & Pencils: December 2011

December 30, 2011

My Grandmother's Skirt

A tiny crack splintered through my heart when I hung my grandmother's skirt up in my closet this Christmas.  It's a red and green plaid skirt that sits perfectly on my hips and floats at my knees, a traveling pants sort of miracle being that I'm 6' tall and my grandmother was 5' on a tall day.

The skirt is one of two items I took from her closet when she passed away.  The other was a bland oatmeal sweater that smelled like her.  I kept that sweater on for days after she died, breathing in her smell even as I laid in bed nights, listening to the sounds that felt all wrong in her house.

But the skirt went unworn.  Last year I couldn't put it on without crying and so it hung at the back of my closet, its red and green merriment lost in a dark corner.  This year I was able to wear the skirt with only the slightest quiver in my bottom lip when I looked in the mirror.

I paired my grandmother's skirt with a green cowl neck blouse, a black jacket zigzagged with zippers, black tights and tall black boots with the skinniest of heels.  For good measure I added my favorite leather studded bracelet.  I remember my grandmother wearing the skirt, so proper in her heels and nylons and a red sweater on top.  She would have laughed and shaken her head at her modest skirt paired with a my hints of edginess.  A thousand times I wanted to send her a photo.  I wanted our pictures to stand next to each other, each of us wearing this magical skirt, her red lipsticked mouth smiling out at my own pale grin.

Every single time I took her skirt out for a spin, I was showered with compliments.  I'm not fashionable or trendy in any sense of those words.  I'm gangly and awkward and when I can find pants that don't look like I'm readying for a flood, well, that's a fashion win in my book.

My grandmother's skirt
When I stepped out in my grandmother's skirt, it was a whole new experience.

"I love that skirt."

"That is a fantastic skirt!"

"You look radiant in that skirt.  It really brings out the color in your cheeks."

Needless to say, I felt great in that skirt, so great that I carefully put it in my clothing rotation as often as possible.  The skirt is so unabashedly red and green that the only possible month to wear it is December and so I decided to make the most of my month with my grandmother's skirt.

I took it to see 'It's a Wonderful Life'.  I wore it to three Christmas parties.  I wore it to the Christmas sing-a-long on the last day of school.  And finally I donned  it for our Christmas morning church service.

As we read the Communion passage, I held the plastic Communion cup, complete with wafer sealed on top, and swirled the grape juice so that it coated the sides of the cup red.  I thought about how Christ's sacrifice covers my sins and I thought about how if I peeled back the wrapper on that cup and poured it on my skirt, the red wool would soak it up and nobody would even notice.  For the record, I didn't pour it out.  I savored the wafer on my tongue and washed it down with the bittersweet juice, running red down my throat.

After church and after all the gifts were opened at my mom's house, a knot caught in my throat when I hung my grandmother's skirt up that Christmas afternoon.  I ran my hand over the wool and slipped the skirt back into the recesses of my closet.  I squeezed into Spandex for a Christmas bike ride.  Under a blindingly blue sky and with the taste of Communion still on my lips, I thought of all the gifts I've received this past year, both tangible and not.

And I smiled because somehow in spite of her passing my grandmother still manages to give incredible gifts.

In her skirt I felt vibrant.

I felt confident.

I felt beautiful.

And the most magical gift of my grandmother's skirt is that when I took it off, all those feelings remained.

December 29, 2011

Thankful Thursday #52

This week I'm thankful for...
  • time off at home with the hubby
  • reading in bed in the morning
  • staying up late
  • Pinterest, the giant time suck that has shown me all sorts of useful things to make out of ratty old t-shirts
  • time to re-organize my house
  • walks with friends
  • cheesecake.  Hey, if you'd eaten this cheesecake, you'd know it's a totally legit thing to be thankful for.
  • Christmas carols
  • practical jokes
  • reading the Christmas story with my hubby in the quiet house on Christmas morning
  • Communion at church on Christmas morning.  It moves me to tears every year.
  • riding The Rocket on Christmas day
  • jeans that fit perfectly
  • brand spankin' new cycling socks
  • the red afghan a student's mother made for me.  It's beautiful and comes with a great story for another time.

December 22, 2011

Thankful Thursday #51

This week I'm thankful for...
  • watching the last troops leave Iraq
  • turning off my alarm clock for the next couple of weeks
  • Christmas vacation
  • watching David Hallberg dance at the Bolshoi
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas
  • singing Christmas carols with my little ones
  • packages in the mail
  • homemade gifts
  • my little one who said he was so excited that his "heart was pumping with Christmas"

December 15, 2011

Thankful Thursday #50

This week I'm thankful for...
  • local theater and the opportunity for kids to act
  • pink eye.  It allowed me to take a sick day without being all that sick.
  • decorating the tree with my hubby
  • sitting by the light of the Christmas tree
  • unexpected chances to catch up with old friends
  • parent volunteers
  • my foster grandmother, who loves my little ones so very much

December 12, 2011

9 Songs for the Season

The Christmas tree is all a twinkle.  The stockings are hung side by side.  The Nativity set my grandmother brought back from Jerusalem is splayed out on the shelf behind me, wooden Baby Jesus smiling up at Mary and Joseph.  And I've got my Christmas playlist doing overtime with some old favorites from last year and some shiny new additions.  In no particular order, here they are.

1. O Come, O Come Emmanuel by the Civil Wars This song is so beautifully stripped bare.  It's haunting and lovely and my favorite find this year.  Go now and buy it.  Then just try to stop yourself from listening to it on a continuous loop.

2. Breath of Heaven by Amy Grant I know, I know, it's Amy Grant.  I can actually hear your eyes rolling and your finger tapping on the mouse.  Before you click away, just hear me out.  I know it's Amy Grant and that putting her on my list again would leave me wide open for ridicule.  Knowing that I'd be mocked mercilessly, I STILL put this song in my  Top 9.  That's how good it is.  It's sung from Mary's beautifully human perspective and I will love it all the days of my life.  If you can get past the fact that it's Amy Grant, you'll love it, too.  And if you can't get past the fact that it's Amy Grant, then consider this; the next best version of this song is by Jessica Simpson.  Amy Grant's looking pretty good now, right?

3. River by Robert Downey, Junior This one's not technically a Christmas song, but I'm the one who makes the rules around here.  I love Joni Mitchell's version and Sarah MacLachlan's rendering, but there's a raw quality to Downey's voice that gives it a vulnerable feel.  There's something about a man singing this song that makes me weak in the knees.

4. Peace on Earth by U2  Don't think that I haven't noticed your index finger hovering over the mouse.  I have.  But then I go and throw U2 on the list and lure you back into my evil lair of Seasonal Songifying.  Go listen to this song and I swear by the end you'll be making a list of all the philanthropic things you're going to do just as soon as the last note sounds.

5. O Holy Night by Celine Dion O Holy Night is my most favorite Christmas carol.  I'm not a Celine Dion fan by any stretch of the imagination, but she sings this song like no other.  A lump rises in my throat as her voice soars over the high notes and pierces straight through my heart.

6. The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole Sometimes the classics just can't be beaten.  His voice is like a drink of rich cocoa, filling me as it slides down my throat and into my stomach where it settles into a pile of warmth that lasts the whole day and keeps me from feeling stabby when I'm forced to brave the stores.

7. Baby, It's Cold Outside by She & Him This one is so much fun!  It's a bouncing give and take that brings a smile to my face every single time.  This one will squelch even the Grinchiest of all Grinches.  Believe me, I know because this girl's heart is usually full of unwashed socks, but when this little ditty comes on, I find myself singing along and using cutesy word pairings like "little ditty".

8. Christmastime is Here by The Vince Guaraldi Trio The children's voices paired with the melancholy piano strikes the right chord every year and brings me back to visions of Charlie Browns spindly little tree.  While I have always loved this song, I've never fully appreciated its magical prowess until this year.  My little ones are bouncing off the walls-and we still have A FULL WEEK AND A HALF of school before blessed vacation arrives.  They are insanely excited and THE ONLY THING ON THE PLANET THAT SOOTHES THEM is this song.  I put it on and a hush, a hush I tell you, falls over the classroom.  For just a few minutes we're lulled into tranquility.  If this song were a person, I'd kiss it on the mouth for the few calm moments it brings to my day.

9. Welcome to Our World by Chris Rice You don't know Chris Rice?  Well, I'm so glad to acquaint the two of you.  There's a great line in this song "Hope that you don't mind our manger."  Such a humble way to welcome the Son of God.  But the line that stops me in my tracks is "Bring Your peace into our violence, bid our hungry souls be filled."  Seriously, I found myself fighting back a tear in the bread aisle yesterday when this one came up on my playlist.  But wait, there's more, because then Chris Rice goes and sings this perfect verse "So wrap our injured flesh around You.  Breathe our air and walk our sod.  Rob our sin and make us holy.  Perfect Son of God."  By the time that verse came around I was wiping my eyes on my sleeve and assuring the checker that I was fine, completely fine, no really.  I hope you enjoy it and if you've got some favorites, give them some love in the comments.

December 1, 2011

Thankful Thursday #49

This week I'm thankful for...
  • watching the sunset over the ocean
  • the sting ray that shot out of the water near me when I was sea kayaking
  • the smell of the ocean
  • being rocked to sleep on a ship
  • a relaxing pedicure and a foot massage that hurt so good
  • towel animals on my bed at night
  • the five trivia trophies we brought home from our trip and the rare occasion that useless knowledge actually comes in handy
  • the grown woman I saw blowing bubbles in the hallway
  • taking my little ones to the theater
  • writing on the lovely and very tropical beach of Las Caletas.  I could get used to this..


Christmas morning and bicycles will always be tied together in my mind.  I vividly recall stumbling out to the living room in footsie pajamas and seeing a shiny pink bicycle, complete with flowered banana seat, waiting for me by the Christmas tree.  Three years later I found a beautiful, blue Bianchi ten speed with my name on it standing by the tree.  And many, many years after that my husband bought me Frank the Tank for Christmas.

To this day I love going for a spin in my neighborhood just after Christmas to see all the wobbly wheeled kids strapped in helmets navigating the sidewalks on sparkly new bicycles.  This post is in anticipation of all the new bicycles that will hit the pavement for the first time Christmas morning.
There's something magical about Christmas.  Maybe it's the carols floating through the air or the scent of cinnamon permeating, well, everything.  Whatever it is, even this glitter-hating, heart full of unwashed socks Grinch of a girl softens up just a bit.
image courtesy of love2pedal.com
Everywhere I look there's joy and delight.  I'm not talking about the aisles of Christmas accoutrements in the stores.  I'm talking about the moments that cause me to stop and smile for an extra second or two.  Like opening the mailbox and having stacks of Christmas cards spill out.
image courtesy of rodamb-blogspot.com
Or the smell of the first snow and the glory of a tarnished world turning white before my eyes.
image courtesy of superstock.com
Not to mention the pure pleasure of flopping down in the snow and flapping my arms and legs until a snow angel arches her wings underneath me.
image courtesy of desertrosepress.com
It's the little things that tickle me most like candy canes hooked over the edges of mugs of hot cocoa or a snowman peeking over his carrot nose.
image courtesy of danheller.com
 At night the world is all a-twinkle, lights shining bright into the dark, calling up to the stars that sparkle in response.
image courtesy of switchboard.nrdc.org
There's joy in finding the perfect tree.  Maybe it's a spindly Charlie Brown tree you found on a mountain top and cut down with your mittened hands.

image courtesy of inhabitat.com
 Or maybe you take home the thickest tree from the corner lot.

image courtesy of techeblog.com
 No matter where your tree came from, pulling the boxes of ornaments out of the attic, turning on your favorite Christmas music and adorning each branch makes for a perfect day.
image courtesy of tributesport.com
 When I was a kid, my brothers and sister and I piled into one bedroom on Christmas Eve.  We'd giggle in our sleeping bags and sometimes always sneak a peek at the presents.  But the best part of the night was listening for Santa's sleigh on the roof.
image courtesy of odditycentral.com
Every tapping tree against the windows and each creak of the house became absolute proof of prancing and pawing hooves.
image courtesy of instructables.com
We'd crane our necks and cock our ears to the side, convincing my little brother that Santa was hard at work while we squirmed in our sleeping bags.
image courtesy of the Embassy of Indonesia
In the morning, the cookies we'd baked for Santa were only crumbs left on the plate next to an empty glass of milk.
image courtesy of trishadean.blogspot.com
Christmas morning began with stockings, the toe of the stocking stuffed with an apple and an orange that went straight to the kitchen fruit bowl despite my mother's tales of how children used to cherish Christmas oranges.  She had a point, but it was only later in the day when I'd made myself sick by eating my entire Book of Lifesavers that I'd eat the orange.
image courtesy of cmybacon.com
 My mother was a master gift wrapper, each gift wrapped in beautiful paper, with military corners and a shiny bow on top.  The presents I'd wrapped were always a rumpled disaster of paper that would never lay down flat and yards of Scotch tape to hold it all together.
image courtesy of loren24250.wordpress.com
These days my favorite part of Christmas is when my husband and I sit on the couch underneath piles of blankets and read the story of Mary and Joseph and the night they welcomed my Christ to Earth.
image courtesy of mesamooncards.com
After the gifts have been opened and all the Lifesavers and oranges have been eaten, we sing O Holy Night and hope that God hears us amongst the choirs of heavenly hosts.  We offer our praise in exchange for the gift of his Son.  On Christmas and the rest of the year we are profoundly grateful for God's grace that somehow makes our meager offerings enough.
Bicycle Heaven by Denise Cottin