bigger pond

Peace

On earth peace…

And seek the peace of the city…

and pray to the Lord for it

for in its peace you will have peace.

…goodwill to men.

Christ the Savior in born.

Colophon “Peace” composed of letters taken from signs in our favorite St. Louis neighborhoods. P from Pin-Up Bowl on the Loop, E from Euclid Avenue in Central West End, A from the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum on the Washington University campus, C from the City of University City city hall, and E from the
Pageant music hall on the Loop.

The Ghost of Christmas (Hall Decorating) Past

Per usual, my semester ended with me collapsed on the couch, soul-sucking seminar papers turned in, exam blue books thoroughly scribbled upon, piles of books and essays covering the dining room table, and very, very little done in preparation for Christmas. I was absurdly proud of myself for decorating our tree 6 days before Christmas and designing Christmas cards and writing our Christmas letter 5 days prior to go-day. Sure, no one will actually get said Christmas cards or letters by Christmas, but I’m not ashamed to lower my standards to attainable levels at this point.

And then I remembered the two weeks leading up to Christmas break at good ol’ Cov Col. Surely calling upon some wisdom too lofty for mere undergrads, the powers-that-be ordained that the weekend prior to finals week was Time to Clean Your Rooms. Bathrooms were doused in bleach, bunkbeds had to be re-stacked, everything needed to come off the walls, and all earthly belongings were shuttled to storage or stuffed inside our minuscule closets. This was character-building and all, but also directly counter to our professors’ admonitions to study for our imminent exams.

But then, since — clearly — cleaning and studying for exams wasn’t enough for our over-active undergraduate bodies, our dorm also declared the Wednesday before finals to be the annual Hall Decorating Contest. Because, really, the best use of time would be to decide that the hall theme should be Narnia, corral freshmen into cutting down assorted pine branches from around campus, string said branches along the entire length of the hall, craft an ingenious lamppost out of a cheap Wal-mart floor light, create huge brown craft paper “wardrobe” doors for visitors to walk through, and then spread cotton batting and spray snow everywhere.

So we did.

And then, because no one had papers to write or projects to finish, of course, we all assumed a character to fit the Narnia narrative…

…Tricia labeled everyone in order to prevent confusion…

…and I got to sit swathed in a white sheet (wearing Betsy’s tiara) and offer passersby Turkish delight. I think I threw flour — er, magical freezing dust — at people who refused me.

Frankly, even as I can feel myself becoming the bitter old professor who is aghast at how students spend the last weeks of the semester, I am still ridiculously proud of this feat. I have romanticized it to the point of utter brilliance in my mind.

I am also incredibly grateful that I never have to do that ever again. Amen.

Dirty, Dirty Santa

I take a break from my self-exile in paper-writing-wonderland to report on the results of our small group’s Dirty Santa gift exchange last night. We gave:

  • Our extra copies of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters and an extra copy of John Calvin’s Golden Booklet of the Christian Life. We feel a little less Presbyterian having given these away, but we’ll manage.
  • A three-in-one picture frame that had been sitting in our bedroom for a while. I’m not sure why. And the unbelievably hideous brass wreath ornament that Noel received at last year’s company Christmas party. There’s an engraved fighter jet  tearing around the world in the middle of the wreath.

Noel received, in a single, black, white, and pink patterned gift bag:

  • 4 pink, green, and white striped cotton napkins
  • 6 write and erase stem markers for all those wine parties we throw; it came in a difficult to open plastic cube that almost proved too complicated for Noel to open
  • 3 orange plastic packs of paper soaps. In citrus!
  • 1 pale yellow plastic tube that the gift-giver swore was for peeling garlic

I received, in a single gift bag:

  • A translucent pink, white polka-dotted, glitter infested bracelet. Words really don’t do it justice.
  • Uno.
  • A magnetic key hider box that says KEY HIDER EXTRA LARGE in incredibly large type on the front. Way to be discreet.
  • The heaviest tea light candle holder in the history of mankind, crafted from some kind of Pakistani stone.
  • And, the ultimate Dirty Santa gift: a length of navy blue velor edged with artificial pine garland and complexly stitched and pinned to allow the lucky recipient the opportunity to wear it as a “Christmas tree costume.” Liz claimed she had worn it for several years. I don’t know how they celebrate Christmas down in Alabama, but that seems like a bit much.

Thanks, Dirty Santa. We can’t wait to give all of this away next year!

Timely at the Time

I neglected to let everyone know that we were the crashing stock market for Halloween. We’re kind of conceptual dorks like that:

Unfortunately, the flapping skirt ruins something of the red line’s dramatic dive. And maybe Noel looks a little like he’s in prison stripes. But trust us. We thought it was funny.

I Just Wanted the Internets To See This

Noel accompanied me to Austin where I gave a paper at the University of Texas Graduate Student American Studies Annual Conference. The conference was not-so-great, but Austin certainly lived up to its billing of being very, very weird.

We wandered along South Congress, popping at will into stores that existed solely to disseminate kitsch to the masses. One of the stores, Uncommon Objects, was essentially a collection of grandmother’s attics, just organized by color. There were old ratty hats, alphabet rubber stamps, photographs of now-anonymous people, cloisonne canisters, antique typewriters, vintage umbrellas, yellowed books, weathered shoe horns, battered chests, beaded evening bags, creepy stuffed dolls and, yes, this hat:

And that is my husband’s hair, all mad-scientist-cowboy, crystal-ball-meets-rodeo, afro-wig-inside-a-hat. Now, only slightly more frightening than the fact that this exists and that we decided to put it on Noel’s impertinently curly head, is the realization that more than one of these exists.

It’s not too late to get him a birthday present.

Puritan Ghosts

Sometimes it frightens me that I — in some mutant embodiment of the “Puritan work ethic” — seriously consider emotional and physical burn-out to be a viable option for dealing with a crisis. It’s right there, on the table next to wiser choices such as “seek professional counsel” and “stop trying to control the outcome of someone else’s life.” I can’t explain why it’s such an attractive option at the outset, but I am slowly recognizing just how diametrically opposed my choice of burn-out is to true incarnational living.

The Fun We Forget

I married off two siblings this summer, resulting in more people that I love becoming permanent fixtures in my life. While each of their weddings were lovely, I was most excited — not about the flowers, fanciness, or even the family gathering — but about everything that would happen after those six hours of vows, photographs, and other assorted trappings.

Paigey, Corinne, and I all grew up in Christian homes. We were all taught from the time we were little that marriage is a solemn endeavor. By the time we were in junior high and high school, a kind of healthy fear had been instilled in us of romantic relationships. We were acutely aware that marriage, mirroring the bond of Christ and the church, was hard work. That it would reveal our sin. That it would hurt us. That it would involve more tough “hanging on” than easy “being in love.” It’s a strange and somber state of mind that, I think, usually only occurs in those of us who have been raised in the church.

And I’m glad I was taught well. But, as I told each of my sweet sisters prior to their wedding days, these sober truths are far from the whole story. Sometimes, in the midst of our cautious ponderings, we forget a rather key aspect of marriage.

It’s also a lot of fun. Delightful, joyful fun.

Even the part where you’re hanging on.

Project Elissa

I am the Bravo reality tv lineup in real life.

On Project Runway Elissa, I sewed a dress to wear to Paige and Trent’s rehearsal dinner. It took a lot longer than one day to do so. Sorry, Nina.

On Shear Genius Nerd, I cut Noel’s hair. He hadn’t been shorn since Josh and Corinne’s wedding at the beginning of June, so there was a lot of curl to tame. Good thing there was a lot of Olympics to watch.

On Top Only Chef, I baked chocolate chip oatmeal cookies for a church fellowship. Unfortunately, we did not have time to let the dough rest for 36 hours, but the cookies that chilled for 18 hours were, according to Noel, superior to the cookies that chilled for only 6. Not much of a Quickfire Challenge.

Lost in the ‘Burbs

A week and a half ago I was in Houston, helping with preparations for the imminent Weichbrodt-Hudson nuptials. Every time I am in Houston I am filled with renewed trepidation over the in-laws neighborhood. It’s lovely, of course, but it’s also a Houston suburbs’ subdivision. Despite having visited numerous times over the course of the past three and a half years, I am remarkably unable to maintain any sense of cardinal directions or relative location once we enter the sprawling land of pale-red-and-cream houses in well-manicured cul-de-sacs with nice names. It’s all:

And I’m all:

And yet, on this particular morning, I decided to go running. By myself.

I conscientiously charted a route on mapmyrun.com, left a note announcing my early morning departure, and brought along my cell phone. I was certain that this was being overly cautious and that surely, sixty minutes later, I would be back home and eating breakfast with the fam.

This did not happen.

Things progressed smoothly for the first forty minutes. Other than the intermittent disappearance of sidewalks (Digression: Why, in the name of urban planning, did subdivision gods deem it wise to randomly dispense of sidewalks along routes that, at their onset, seemed so very promising and cheerful-neighborhood-like?), my planned loop appeared to be, well, looping. And then, with very little warning, the sidewalk and most other signs of established housing vanished, leaving me running on damp grass next to a rather busy road flanked by expanses of pine trees. Hopeful, I pressed onward, waiting to see those rows of pale-red-and-cream homes re-emerge. Instead, I arrived at a strange T-intersection where street signs declared a state-of-being not revealed on my map and the litter-filled shoulder fell short of happy suburb land.

Unsure of which way to proceed, I called Noel, keeper of the iPhone, who was still back in St. Louis. I described the situation. I gave my cross streets. He Google Mapped. He told me the name of another intersection. I insisted that those were not my cross streets. He told me my cross streets did not, in the world of Google Maps, actually cross. He switched to satellite view and, low and behold, the trusty pictures from orbit showed my current location under construction. Directions were still a bit tentative after that but, half an hour later, I did manage to find the correct pale-red-and-cream house in the correct coyly named cul-de-sac and, most importantly, eat breakfast.

And this what the world is coming to. The suburbs are growing too fast for even Google to keep up. How are runners to remain safe?

Up Next: Aliens.

A couple of weeks ago, Noel and I received these slips in our fortune cookies:

The software developer, of course, was affirmed with the declaration that his financial future was secure. Me? Facing a new semester with a new batch of freshmen and the always combustible departmental politics, I am told: “An alien of some sort will be appearing to you shortly!” Cool.