‘What Can I Give Him?’

I’ve shared this poem in Christmas talks recently and have had requests to post it. I transcribed this years ago from a poor-quality cassette of a woman reading it at a conference.  Consequently, I may have the author’s name wrong and I may have a few words wrong (my apologies), but you’ll like the big idea.

Christmas starWHAT CAN I GIVE HIM?
Claudia Langin

As I’m thinking of Christmas, the birthday of Christ,
I’m thinking a gift for Him would be nice.
But what can I give to the one who owns all?
Nothing seems fitting; I could buy him the mall.

He owns all the cattle on the hills where they roam,
He owns all the valleys and oceans of foam.
I can’t knit Him a sweater or buy him a doll,
Nothing seems fitting; no nothing at all.

I remember His birthday, when to earth He first came,
And Kings from afar brought gifts in His name.
And the story of the drummer boy who had nothing to bring;
Except for his song to give to his King.

O what can I give him, what can I bring?
To Jesus the Christ child, to Jesus the King.
I’d give Him whatever He’d tell me He’d want,
If He’d give me a list I’d know where to start.

Then He whispered so softly that only I knew,
I could give Him my anger when my thermostat blew.
And how about that bitterness that had slowly crept in,
That had turned my faith sour and revealed my sin.

Or maybe that lie that I told just last week,
When it seemed so much easier than the truth I should speak.
Or maybe the anger that crept in on the way,
While jealousy lingered and pride seemed to stay.

Or maybe those thoughtless words that came out,
And hurt those that are near me or caused them to doubt.
I could give him impatience, hatred and strife,
I could give him my heartaches and troubles of life.

Or how about those motives too evil to share,
Or that depression that seems to come up from nowhere.
I could give him the critical words that I said,
Or the frustrations I felt before the kids went to bed.

Or how about those grudges I’m holding on to,
Or the pressure I feel when there’s so much to do.
Or my lack of forgiveness when others do wrong,
Or my unwillingness to sing when he gives me a song.

“Oh, what can you give me?” I heard in my ear,
“Whatever you’re willing to give me this year.
I need nothing from you, but want all that you are,
Not giftwrapped or fancy, not gifts from afar.

“Are you willing to give up those handcuffs of self,
Or is it easier to hide them up on a shelf?
Packages pretty of red, green and blue,
Are not what I’m asking this Christmas from you.

“Try giving a present to me every day,
The list will be shorter by Christmas that way.
The time is fast fleeting, there’s so much to do,
To be finished by Christmas is up to you.”

I dropped my head slowly and pondered awhile,
Then I prayed help me Jesus and felt his soft smile.
To others I’ll share the gift of my wealth,
But to Jesus this year, I’ll give him myself.

 

Ho, ho, hold that pose!

Today I offer simple rules and basic scare tactics for taking pictures of small children for Christmas cards. I did portrait work for some years, although today I only do portraits for people I am related to—or to whom I am deeply indebted.

The husband and I met while studying photojournalism at the University of Missouri. The story goes that we met in the darkroom to see what would develop. If you got that joke, thanks for laughing. If not, return to your iPhone.

A good rule of thumb for taking pictures of small children is this: for every year old the child is, that is how manymontage3 minutes the child will cooperate.

A second rule of thumb is that for each additional child you add to the picture, reduce the age-to-minutes ratio of cooperation by 80 percent. Or more.

A third rule of thumb (and yes, we are completely out of thumbs) is that you should expect the photo session, at some point, to become a train wreck. There may be tears, scowling, anguish, and wringing of hands— from the adults.

When you work with three or more small children, there is a good chance one child will jab or elbow another child. Physical contact will escalate and you will have to intervene. You will later feel guilty about putting the picture on a card that says “Peace on Earth.”

When you work with four or more small children, there is a good chance at least one of the children will be crying. Take the picture anyway.

When you work with five or more small children, plan on one of them exiting the picture entirely. This is why we have Photoshop.

What to do with uncooperative children? Bribe them – but carefully.

You can give a child an M&M, but never give a crying child an M&M hoping it will pacify the child. The child will gladly eat the M&M, but keep crying, only to have chocolate drool down the child’s face and onto the white shirt. All the other (non-crying) children will be wearing dark shirts, but the kid drooling chocolate will be wearing a white shirt.

If you want an easy and enjoyable experience taking family photographs for your Christmas card, it would be best to take pictures of family members age 95 and older. They usually move slightly slower than small children, are far more patient and may even nap as you change lenses and adjust the lighting.

It may be true that a picture is worth a thousand words, but the thousand words have been heavily edited. We have years of pictures of children, our own and others and now grandchildren, in which the children look calm, peaceful, casually color coordinated and fully cooperative.

For a split second, maybe they really were.

 

 

Kids have ‘wunnerful’ time on family room dance floor

You can still catch Lawrence Welk on Saturday nights. Of course, that’s assuming you want to. He’s on PBS, still leading ladies across the dance floor, tapping the baton with “ah one, ah two, ah three,” and cuing the bubble machine.

My three great aunts, who lived together in a two-story white clapboard house in Lincoln, Nebraska, used to watch “The Lawrence Welk” program religiously. It was like attending the United Church of Lawrence Welk—services lawrence welk ladiesevery Saturday night at 7. The room was hushed, viewers sat quietly and watched with reverence.

Despite regular attendance, I lost interest in Lawrence Welk and we went our separate ways, although I doubt Mr. Welk noticed. Maverick that I was, I found myself more drawn to Ed Sullivan who hosted acrobats spinning plates and a curious rock band from England.

Some years later, after I had married and had become a mother, I heard a familiar “ah one, ah two, ah three” drifting into the kitchen one Saturday night.

Our preschool children were plastered to the television, transfixed by Lawrence Welk and his color-coordinated orchestra. They were mesmerized by the hairdos, hats and costumes, the sets, the singing and the dancing. At least the girls were. Our son wasn’t that interested; he probably had something to dismantle somewhere.

“Back up from the television before those bubbles burst in your face, girls!” They did back up, all the way to the toy chest. They reappeared wearing play high heels, faux fur stoles and dress up clothes. They imitated the dancers on screen. They danced with each other. And they danced with their dad, that night and many Saturday nights to follow.

Eventually they, too, grew older and their tastes change. They lost interest and the Saturday night dances faded into memory.

We hadn’t heard from Lawrence for some time. Then a couple of weeks ago when three of the grands were with us for the weekend, one of the five-year-olds asked if Lawrence Welk would be on.

“Of course,” we chimed, as though he was part of our weekend routine.

They stared with big eyes at puffy hair styles, bright costumes and a beautiful brunette singing out her heart in Spanish. They danced with each other and danced with Grandpa. The numbers that seemed dated to us were fresh to them. The warmth and affection of the performers appealed to the girls as much as the gowns and the gloves.

And then a baritone crooner sang, “Somebody Stole My Gal.”

Somebody stole his gal!
Somebody stole his gal!

“What’s a gal?” a small voice asked.

“It’s like a girlfriend.”

“Somebody stole his girlfriend?” another asked with concern.

“It sounds like it.”

The three of them stood wide eyed in disbelief. There was palpable concern; it was an unanticipated ripple.

The next number began and the camera zoomed in on a woman playing trumpet.

“Is that a gal?” the 3-year-old asked

“Yep.”

“Maybe she’s the one he’s looking for!”

Problem solved. Cue the bubble machine. Adios, au revoir, auf weidersehn.

 

 

 

 

Why you probably can’t measure up to the dress

A website I was browsing offered a helpful feature for online shoppers—the  model’s height and the size of the dress she was wearing.

I was looking at a particular dress, wondering if it might be doable, if it might be forgiving in all the right places, if maybe I could actually wear it, when I noticed small print saying the model wearing the dress was 5’10” and wears a size 2.measuring tape this one

And another dream dies.

Knowing the model’s height and dress size unravels one of the great mysteries of the universe—why a dress never looks as good on most of us as it does on a model. Or on the hanger for that matter.

Statistically, the odds are far greater that you are closer to 5’2” and a size 10 than you are closer to 5’10” and a size 2. Same numbers, just a slightly different order.

Honestly, I wouldn’t even mind if they included a little asterisk beside the model’s stats that said, “If you’re not 5”10” and/or a size 2, and you regularly eat solid food, this dress will not look the same on you. Not even close. Not ever. Not even if we undo the chip clips.”

Have you seen the chip clips? They may be the ultimate fusion of food and fashion.

If you’ve glanced at the back of a store mannequin lately, you may have noticed the excess yardage of the clothing pulled to the back and gathered in what looks to be a chip clip. I saw one recently with a clip just like the one we put on the bag of tortilla chips. Or is it the Flaming Cheetos? Some people use chip clips to store chips, others use them to make their clothes fit. You’re either in one camp or the other.

The dress site that gave the model’s height and dress size also gave measurements for her bust, waist and hips. She was 34, 24, 34. She being the one whose lips have not tasted a medium rare steak in years, nor known the comfort of pie. It was like a flashback to the old Miss America pageants, where the host would announce the contestant’s name, the state she was representing, her height, weight, bust, waist and hip measurements in a warm and congenial tone, like it was the way everyone introduced themselves to strangers.

My first literary agent said that when she hit 50, she weighed exactly the same that she did when she was 20. It just all shifted.

There might have been a day I wished I had to use a chip clip on the back of a dress, but now I am glad to have them where they belong – on the chips. I’m also glad to know why the dress will never look the same on me as it does on the model.

 

Thankful for Ye Olde Pilgrim Games

We play outdoor games at Thanksgiving. I blame the Kennedys. As a child, I remember hearing about the Kennedys JFK footballplaying football at Hyannis Port every Thanksgiving. Everyone around me had eaten themselves into a carbohydrate-induced stupor and the Kennedys were outside playing ball. It sounded so fun. So wholesome. And they all had such good teeth.

We instituted a tradition of Thanksgiving games a decade ago when the youngest invited a bunch of college friends home the weekend before Thanksgiving. After feeding them, we announced Ye Olde Pilgrim Games would commence out back.

The original (and only) pilgrim game consisted of a person balancing the tip of a broom handle in the palm of one hand, staring up at the bristles and spinning in a circle 10 times. We told the kids that the game was a favorite of William Bradford. We think they believed us. Even the history majors.

After spinning wildly, the player throws the broom to the ground and tries to jump over it. This results in a lot of staggering, tripping, falling, sprawling and great Ye Olde Pilgrim Game photos. If only the Pilgrims had had cell phones.

In the ensuing 10 years, we have acquired numerous small grandchildren whom we do not want spinning to the point of nausea so our traditions are changing. Last year we implemented new Ye Olde Pilgrim Games, including a turkey chase and a deer hunt.

Yes, the deer did look a lot like the husband wearing felt reindeer antlers and a cardboard deer huntbox with four cardboard legs and a tail. Each grandchild got two tags, or purple Post-Its. (It is a little known fact that the Pilgrims lived in a two-tag county.)

They tore out of the house and flushed out the deer with shrieking and screaming. Back and forth, in and out of the pines, around the maple, the deer was tagged once, twice, maybe three times. Then the deer cut a sharp turn, stumbled and dropped to the ground.

The deer jumped back up, but his cardboard hindquarters had been crushed, his chest was creased, his antlers were catawampus and the tail was history. The deer hunt was suspended due to a sensitive toddler screaming, “Don’t hurt Grandpa!”

The turkey chase went slightly better in that there was no crying.  The goal was to pluck brightly colored feathers from the turkey. This was a tall challenge since the hunt party hovered around 40 inches high and the turkey was 6-foot-2 (tall for even a free-range pilgrim turkey). There seemed to be a clear winner until the kids started swapping feathers for different colors and eventually nobody knew which feathers belonged to who or who had how many.

In any case, new traditions were born and will continue again this year providing a deer and turkey step forward. There is one tradition that never changes however, and that is the one of gathering around the table, sharing a bounty of food and giving thanks to God for his generous provision. A heart of thanksgiving was as essential to life in 1600s as it is today. The world around us changes constantly, but a few of the permanent things never do.

Wrap rage leads to life on the cutting edge

Nothing destroys self-confidence like losing a battle with a package marked “Easy Open.”

Last week a shrink-wrapped smoked sausage got the better of me. A big red arrow marked the Easy Open corner where you peel the front from the back and the sausage gleefully falls into the skillet.easy open

I tried peeling the Easy Open corner with my fingernail. I tried separating it by flicking it back and forth. I thought about trying my teeth, but why risk hundreds of dollars’ worth of dental work on a few bucks of meat?

I decided to cut right through the package with kitchen shears, but realized my old pair had snapped in two and the new ones I had purchased were still unopened in one of those impossible to open blister packs. It’s quite a conundrum when you need shears to get at your shears to get at your sausage.

Blister packs are the culprits often causing wrap rage. Maybe you haven’t heard of wrap rage, but it’s real. I know this kitchen aid shearqsbecause it is on the Internet. Wrap rage is defined as “heightened levels of anger and frustration resulting from the inability to open hard-to-open packaging particularly some heat-sealed plastic blister packs and clamshells.”

Ninety-one percent of Canadians have experienced wrap rage. Two-thirds of Brits suffer wrap rage. There are no statistics on the number of Americans suffering wrap rage because we are suffering from pollster rage, which precludes us from answering questions about wrap rage. So much rage, so little time.

Wrap rage is usually caused by blister packaging, a thick, hard plastic that conforms to the shape of the product and is virtually impenetrable, short of a box cutter, hack saw or the fangs on a German shepherd.dog teeth If you do manage to pierce the packaging, razor sharp edges will then lacerate your hands and knuckles. In fact, blister packaging is a terrible misnomer. It should be called cut and bleed packaging.

Of all the things housed in blister packs (hair styling implements, batteries, tools, lightbulbs) the saddest ones of all are the dolls. They cower in rigid, plastic bio domes with zip ties fastened around their limbs. It’s sick, like they’re in bondage. There’s something wrong about a child watching an adult wrestle a thick plastic tie from around the neck of Baby Drink and Wet.

Of course, the reason we encase and tether everything from toy trucks to cosmetics and computer accessories is to prevent theft. Today there is absolutely nothing that someone won’t steal — from steak and shrimp at the grocery to the copper tubing on an air conditioning unit.

Our youngest worked at a Bed Bath and Beyond in college and said the most frequently stolen item was the votive-size Yankee candle. I wish I didn’t know that because now whenever I’m in someone’s home and they are burning a Yankee candle, I wonder if they stole it.

It might be a good deterrent to theft to package votive candles in blister packs and then require offenders to open
thousands of them using nothing but broken kitchen shears. And maybe their teeth.

From death to the joy of life and a burgundy recliner

We have had a strange run with a funeral nearly every week since late September, a sad and mournful toll of accidents, age and disease.

Having been witness to the finality of life so much in recent days, it causes me to ponder my own mortality and how I might live differently.

After considerable thought, I decided not much.

I live intentionally for the most part, and am prepared to meet my Creator. That said, I did decide I would probably clean out some closets and dresser drawers and wish our finances were in better order. Note, I didn’t say I would actually put our finances in better order, simply that I would wish they were in better order.

The heartache of death is often tempered by the joy of new life, which is why Providence ordained that I would be hosting a baby shower this weekend. I dropped off decorations to be assembled to a friend and neighbor helping with the shower.

Her house was trashed, just as she said it would be. Paper scraps with pencil squiggles were scattered about in the front hall. The family room was littered with toys and stuffed animals, games and scads of plastic hangers. The trail of clutter led directly to a burgundy recliner. There sat my friend’s husband and their granddaughter, snuggled side by side watching Bob the Builder or some other such show with short people wearing yellow hats operating construction equipment.

My friend’s husband has a Ph.D, in history. He’s not a cartoon sort of guy. But he was today. And he was happy to be so.

The charmer beside him was feeling secure and content, sheltered from all the world and all of life’s uncertainties by her grandpa’s presence and strong right arm.  What a golden start to life, to be loved and protected and made to feel safe. How different life might have been for some of those making headlines had they been showered with love and stability as small children. The little one shot me a look with her dark brown eyes that clearly said, “Do Not Disturb.”

I wouldn’t dare.

The book of Genesis details the creation of light and the heavens and the water and the land and all the things that swim in the seas and move upon the earth. Each of those wonders is anchored within the creation of time.

I was saying goodbye to a young family recently after an hour or so together. They are intentional about their use of time and were on their way to another commitment. As we parted, the father sighed and said, “It seems we are always so busy.”

We all are. And therein lies the rub — how to harness time and use it in ways that will reverberate through hearts and minds and eternity.

One of the greatest gifts we are given in this life is that of time. One of the greatest gifts we can give others is time.

So put your arm around a loved one and have a seat.

 

Kids can’t take these grandparents anywhere

One of the most treasured moments of parenting is taking your children out to eat and having a stranger comment on how well behaved they are.

We know because it happened to us. Twice. OK, maybe it was only once.

As a realist, I am always sympathetic to the embarrassed mother with the wailing infant in her arms or screaming toddler plastered to her legs. Having been there and done that, I often smile and offer support by whispering, “Hang in there. Tomorrow will be better. Or worse. You never know.”

Naturally, as grandparents, we wish for our grandchildren to be well behaved in public places and not create the sort of spectacles that wind up in YouTube videos. When we took four of the grands to Steak ‘n Shake, we went over the expectations for behavior. They all listened attentively and the 1-year-old responded, “Baa, baa, ack!”

Our server showed us to a somewhat isolated table at the back, near the restrooms. Every time she passed by, she left another stack of napkins.

The kids were coloring, folding cardboard cutouts, patiently waiting for their food. When the server brought water (with lids) they all placed them near the center of the table to avoid spills. Milkshakes arrived and they carefully put those, too, near the center of the table.

I nearly expected a stranger to stop by and compliment the children on their behavior.

A few moments later, the child to my right pointed out she had dribbled milkshake on her shirt. Reaching for a couple of napkins, I elbowed her milkshake and knocked it flat. Milkshake instantly flooded our side of the table, rolled over the edge and began cascading in waves into my lap. I was catching milkshake by the handful, throwing it back into the glass and onto my plate. The children were stunned and wide-eyed, probably because they’d never seen Grandma throwing milkshake overhand. The husband hurled napkins across the table. We frantically smeared milkshake from east to west. My clothes were sticking to my body and my shoes were suctioned to puddles of milkshake on the floor.

Wordlessly, our server dropped off another round of napkins.

We hastened the eating along and the husband, being of the waste-not, want-not mindset, offered a glass of milk still half-full to the little one in the high chair. Never hesitant to express her disinterest, she batted the glass out of his hand, sending milk arcing like the beautiful St. Louis Gateway Arch, all of it showering the husband.

The server stopped by with more napkins. The kids were cowering under the table and the baby was inconsolable.

As we stood to leave, the husband noticed that our pants were so soaked that we both looked woefully incontinent. I considered that we might be stopped at the door and asked if we were responsible enough to manage small children.

We delivered the children back to their parents. Our own kids looked us up and down with our splattered shirts and wet pants, and chorused, “What happened to you two?”

“All you really need to know is that we tipped 50 percent of the bill,” I said. “Oh, and don’t be surprised if next time the kids want to go without us.”

 

These canasta players are real cards

I was in a group of women recently when one mentioned that some of them played canasta. I hadn’t heard of canasta since I was a girl in Lincoln, Nebraska and used to play it with my three great aunts in their basement to escape the heat on hot summer afternoons.

They invited me to join their group for a game sometime. I haven’t played in years, don’t remember the rules, and justifiably invite the mocking of loved ones whenever I attempt to shuffle a deck. Naturally, I said, “Sure!”

My new card-shark friends go by the names of Snake, Wild Bill, Doc and Deadwood. Not really. They actually go by Susan, Marleen, Bette and Louella. But don’t let the names fool you – they’re all aces.

We met up and they graciously went over the rules and played a few practice hands. Louella, who has a lovely southern drawl and charm to match, sweetly asked if any of it was coming back to me.

“The part about my aunts warning me to stay away from the sump pump in the basement is coming back to me,” I said, “but other than that, not a thing.”

Susan, who re-taught others the game and is my partner across the table, looked pale. And that was before we were 3700 points behind.

When our score dropped into the negative double digits, Louella took the heat off by saying the good thing about canasta is that it is more luck than skill, which means you can talk while you play.

If there’s anything women do better than trump one another at cards, it is trump one another with stories.

I started the round by asking Louella where she learned to play canasta.

She said Chattanooga, Tennessee. Then she added, “With the grandmother of my friend, Gatewood Anthony Folger.” Everybody looked at her. With a perfect deadpan expression, she continued, “Why yes, and Gatewood Anthony Folger met and married a Greek man named Stavros Papazoglou, which made her Gatewood Anthony Papazoglou.”

Louella played a good hand with that story, which reminded Bette, who learned to play canasta as a girl in Chicago with a neighbor and her grandma, that she had a college friend named Paula Penny Pecker. She later married a man with the last name of Chicken which then made her Penny Chicken.

Marleen, who had cards everywhere on the table making melds or mold (I wasn’t sure which), upped the ante by saying that her best friend Ruth knew a gal named Olive Pickle.

It was back to Bette, wasn’t about to fold. She met Marleen’s story about Olive Pickle and raised the stakes by mentioning that her last name is Fortino (pronounced four-teen-o). She said when she and her husband make dinner reservations “for Fortino,” they often arrive to find a table set for 14.

The story play passed to me. It was too rich for my blood, but I played the best I had: “My best friend from childhood went to a doctor named Dr. Savage and a dentist named Dr. Butcher.”

We were back to Louella. Without so much as cracking a smile, she said that she and her husband knew a man in Mississippi named Hap. It was short for Happy.

Long pause. Waiting, waiting.

His last name was Easter.

Louella wins.

Lost teddy nearly unbearable situation

There was a small birthday party at the house the other day. Amid the whirlwind of people leaving—with kids scrambling for shoes and jackets beneath remnants of tissue paper and toys scattered everywhere—a bear was left behind.

I didn’t know a bear was hibernating here until I was tossing plastic cookware into the little wooden cupboard and uncovered the creature sleeping under a green apron.

Not knowing whom the animal had come to the party with, I put out a BBB (Brown Bear Bulletin): “Found: small brown bear, sex and age unknown, matted coat, black beady eyes, small ears, upturned mouth and corduroy paws. Any takers?”

The owner identified her 3-year-old self and relayed a message through her mother asking if Teddy was OK.

I said the bear was fine and snapped a picture of Teddy laid out on the kitchen table.

In retrospect, I can see that the picture may have been somewhat unsettling, a bit stark perhaps if not downright cold. It may even had the hint of Teddy being prepped for surgery.

Then came a question, “What was Teddy doing?”

I could hardly say getting ready for a hernia repair, so I quickly staged a picture of Teddy to put her little mind at ease. One of the kids had stormed the house with helium balloons announcing, “You can’t hab a potty wifout bawoons!” I tethered the balloons to the bear and sent a picture saying Teddy was having fun on my desk, hoping that was the end of it for the time being.

I probably wasn’t as sympathetic to the trauma of leaving Teddy behind as I should have been. I never had a blankie or toy I held onto as a kid at bedtime, nor did any of our children. But our grandchildren do. Their cuddle artifacts of choice range from plush toys to dolls, blankets with fringed edges, worn burp cloths, locust shells in a small box and a red metal tractor. Sometimes there are so many toys, blankets and oddities in the bed there is barely room for the child.

I considered whether the child would have difficulty sleeping without Teddy, and if I should drive Teddy across town. “I don’t think so,” I said aloud looking directly at Teddy. Moments later, Teddy’s eyes began to move. If I leaned to
Ted and balloons the right, Teddy’s eyes moved right. If I leaned to the left, his eyes moved to the left. Teddy was the Mona Lisa of bears.

Teddy followed my moves as I passed in and out of the room throughout the evening, glaring sometimes, casting a “just you wait and see” look at others.

When I closed down for the night, I gave Teddy one last glance. His smile had turned to a smirk.

The next morning all the balloons that Teddy had been holding were on the ground. There weren’t any puncture marks, but I had my suspicions. I received an early call asking if Teddy was still having fun with the balloons. I explain the balloons had mysteriously deflated in the night. There was an audible gasp, followed by the silence of disappointment.

Teddy looked straight ahead and avoided eye contact.

Fine. You win, bear. I’ll take you home today.