Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The Real Reason for the Advent Avenger

If you are a parent, I am warning you. There will come a holiday season when your kid - or kids - doesn't want to have anything to do with you!  Santa Claus is passé. The magic is gone. And sure as shooting stars, the kid will NOT get the fabulous, very expensive gift they are too young, too reckless or too irresponsible to get. So, scowl!

This can be a temporary one season thing or it can stretch for YEARS!! I know. It happened to me.

I was miserable. I only have one kid. There was no other small human acting giddy and foolish over dreams and surprises. There was just this barely polite person who, honestly, had no patience for me or his father. (By the way, this phase bounced off and on for years. Sigh.)

When I am miserable, after marinating in some seriously superior self-pity- (it is one of my few native talents) -I always look for an action that will take my attention away from my misery. As my mother, the Wisest Woman in the World - the original WWW - always said, "When you feel sorry for yourself, help someone else." It works!

I searched my memory banks for help. The problem was that my memories involved sisters and brothers - pretty many of them. I had no idea how to take the games we played as a group of goofballs and turn them into something that would engage one goofball - who wasn't even talking to me except when absolutely necessary.

It all started with a kangaroo ornament, the first of my Advent Angel gifts. It was, the tag read, "An Advent Australian Animal." I found it at Ten Thousand Villages in Ephrata. I planned to find items that I could alliterate with Advent and drop them on his bed each day.

It is very hard to find items that begin with "a" that fit the holiday season. Advent Apple? Done. Advent Automobile - a toy, of course. Advent Aardvark - I tried that. I did. The Advent Aardvark was my first Advent messenger.

And then, the Advent Avenger sprang fully clothed - or not, if you are familiar with the story - into being.

The Advent Avenger turned into a calendar - and a book - that I photocopied at a local printer. And I handed a copy to each of my brothers and sisters and to others besides.

We joke about the Advent Avenger among ourselves. One of my brothers made me a sweatshirt, a photo of which you can see below.
Note the holly on the shoulders. This brother is so creative.

The Advent Avenger kept me sane during those angsty years of growth and pulling away. They - the Advent Avenger is gender neutral because they could be anyone, even YOU! - still bring me joy and remind me to look for a hopeful way out of uncertainty.** (What?! I was "woke" even back in the early '90s.)

BTW, The Advent Avenger wants you to join the club. This is all you have to do to join. Spread good feelings everywhere. Smile. Speak gently. And if you have some holiday cash left over, here are some organizations that are spreading JOY! all year round.

The Heifer Project. Since the late 1940's, Heifer Project has provided livestock, plants and seeds to people in impoverished areas around the world. What could be more holiday-ish than purchasing a lamb for someone else?

Habitat for Humanity. When there is "no room at the inn", Habitat steps up to make homes for people who need them.

Conservation International got a 4 star rating at Charity Navigators making it a sure bet for working towards a cleaner and safer globe.

OR find a charity that is working for something that you feel is so necessary.

Have the best holiday ever. Remember that the difficult people in your life are having tough times. They have never lived through this holiday season before. None of us have.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Sunday Selfie -

The Army Ants came first.

It was a tough time. The budget was tight and services to children and infants stretched. My husband and his good friend worked in Intake, under a director who was later accused of malfeasance. (I forget exactly what she did.) At one point, Hub and J were ordered to tell new callers that they could not offer them ANY services. They took that order hard and did what they could to help all callers.

Their cubby was located near the front door of the agency. Hub took some of our son's Army Ants into work. Do you remember those?

When Hub and J found that workers came in to play with the Army Ants, (arranging them in battle positions or other positions, probably), they decided to make their little way station a "destination" office.

"The Quote of the Day" was a big hit. More about that later.

When the holidays hit, Hub asked me for the tackiest Christmas decorations we owned. He and J festooned their work stations. The other workers LOVED it.

But the best thing they did during the holidays in that time of duress was the Word of the Day. Each morning, they picked a word and offered prizes (candy) to anyone who guessed that word.

If you know my Hub, you can just imagine what words the workers expected. After all, it was a high stress time in the office. Caseworkers offered every foul word as a possible choice.

At the end of the day, all those barnyard speakers were delighted to find that Hub and J, both of them world class cursers, always picked something benign.

"No, no!" Hub would say in his mildest, somewhat incredulous voice. "The word is 'holly'." Or reindeer or snow or something else seasonal.

Hub told me that story - again - this morning. And it cracked me up - again - as it does every time I hear it.

It was a stressful time at work and here at home. Hub rose to the challenge, helping his co-workers stay sane in a job that is thankless and emotionally draining. J is gone and we miss daily.

When the agency's awful director was finally removed, Hub and J auctioned off their Quote of the Day post-its to raise money for small gifts for new foster kids. It was the end of an era.

Step up to keep your friends and family sane this holiday season. Do the little things - offer tea - a smile - a joke - Hold the door open. If you work, make your workspace a safe and cheery space.

If, like the coworkers in this story, you feel like cursing - buy some Army Ants! 

Bill's favorite Quote of the Day from the days of Bill and Jim:

"My kingdom will always have room for a boot licking lackey like you." (From the Gummy Bears cartoon show.)

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Themes and memes

The last two books that I read this year - not the last for the year! heaven forfend! - dealt with immigrants who moved from Asia to English speaking countries. Both books also dealt with dead or dying parents. Of course, beyond that the books are widely different. One is written for teens; the other is written for middle grade readers. One takes place in the good ole U S of A. The other is set Down Under. In the book for teens, it is the parents who have had trouble, or so it seems, adjusting to their move. In the book for middle grades, the main character, an 11-year-old, feels shanghaied by his family's move.

Language is a connector. It is also a barrier. A way to communicate CAN be found but we need to be compassionate enough to try.

Frankly in Love by David Yoon starts out as a typical last year of high school when will I get a girl romance. Of course there are complications. There are always complications. Frank's complications are his parents.

We watch Frank's parents "evolve" as Frank's view of his family evolves. Yoon never paints the parents broadly or stereotypically, but it seems that Frank does. They have "racist" attitudes about dating because they are immigrants. Frank knows how they think because he hears their opinions. They keep Frank's older sister at arm's length because she chose the wrong partner.
Not crazy about this cover. Just saying.

The very best thing about this book is Yoon's writing. He lays out the puzzle pieces and the reader is pretty sure where the pieces will go. Whether they fall into place as the reader predicts or not, Yoon adds depth of emotion and enlightenment to the simplest event.

So, here's the plot. Frank Lee has never had a date because his parents will only approve of him dating a Korean-American girl. His lifelong friend, Joy, IS dating a non-Korean, secretly. So they come up with a plan to fake date each other.

From comments on Goodreads, it appears that fake dating is a thing. I suspect it was a thing back in the pre-Cambrian Era when I went to high school,   - religion, race, neighborhood, the same-same.

The inevitable result of fake dating happens, but the ending is not rosy.

Meanwhile, Frank breaks his non-Korean girlfriend's heart. Frank's best friend, Q, spouts erudite nonsense (which cracked me up). Frank and Q's friendship made this book for me.

And THEN, there is a family crisis that is sad and revealing and ultimately healing. Nuff said.

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Now, this cover holds promise!

Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai is also about immigrants. Jingwen, his mother and his younger brother, Yanghao have moved to Australia. Jingwen simply cannot get the hang of English. He views the other children at school as Martians. He understands just enough English to convince himself that some of his classmates are mocking him. And he realizes that HE is the alien.

Jingwen makes a lot of assumptions about the people around him because he can't talk to them. He reads body language and faces. His own feeling of failure imbues his interpretations with threats where none exist. What an awful feeling!

Jingwen and Yanghao's father wanted to move to Australia and open a bake shop where only the most special cakes would be sold. Then he died in a car accident. When their mother went through with the move, Jingwen feels that his family abandoned the memory of his father.

 Jingwen is sure that the only way he can ever feel happy again is by baking every cake his father planned for their bake shop, Pie in the Sky. So secret cake baking ensues. Yanghao has to be included because HE can make himself understood. Cakes! Messes! Duplicity! They need to keep their baking secret because using a stove is dangerous for children.

In the meantime, Jingwen struggles. His teacher reaches out. A classmate is kind. When Yanghao ends up in the hospital because of a marginally cake related accident, their mother finally pays attention to Jingwen's grief. It is not easy being a widowed mother in a foreign land.

All those cakes end up improving Jingwen's grades, help him make friends and create a hopeful ending.
ALSO, the drawings are delightful.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Sunday Selfie - Smile

People tell a friend of mine to "Smile." all the time. He hates it. I agree with him for disliking it, because it's disrespectful to order someone else to change their facial expression. This friend has an absolutely awesome smile. When I see him smiling at someone, it brightens my heart. His resting expression is serious and he prefers that people keep their opinion of that to themselves.

"Smile" is actually good advice, though. Studies have determined that if you smile - not that fake grimace we gave during school pictures, but an actual smile - the act of smiling alerts your brain that your mood is in the process of lifting. Keep smiling and eventually your mood does lift. Muscles and memory work together to help you feel better.

The other night I went to a club meeting where people got up to share stories. I love these events and I usually sit there with a smile on my lips. Or I lean forward in concern when the teller is relaying something sad or exciting.

I looked around and noticed that hardly anyone else was smiling. I wonder why. Were they just waiting their turn? Do they, like my friend, have serious resting expressions? Do they equate listening to a live performance to vegging in front of the TV? (THAT is a subject for a whole other post.) Later when people shared their impressions and thoughts about the stories, hardly anyone smiled. Again, I wonder why.

I admit that when I walked away from that meeting I had neutral to concerned feelings about the people there. The ones who smiled as they talked - appropriately to the content of their stories or statements, of course - I felt positive towards. I wondered if the others were sad, tired or even angry. When we go THERE, the next step is to wonder if they were angry with me.

See? Now possible friendships became fraught with obstacles because people did not smile.

Don't smile because it makes me more comfortable, though. Smile because it will help you through tough times.

When someone tells me I look worried, as I often do, it reminds me to smile, even to laugh. When I do, the worrisome things fall into their rightful place in my life. and I feel less stress.

Advice for the day is twofold:
Don't tell other people to "Smile."

BUT, remind yourself to smile. It will make you feel better in most situations.