Gifts


The squirrels have discovered my bird feeder again. I used to have a feeder suction cupped to the outside of the dining room window. The birds flocked to it, even getting all territorial and aggressive with each other over it. I swear, there was seriously bird gang warfare going on in my backyard over which birds could access the millet-y goodness inside the feeder. (What can I say? It’s a rough neighborhood!) Then one day I heard an extra big thump on the window. I looked up to see a squirrel sprawled across the feeder ledge, paws scrabbling for purchase. His body blocked the feeder ports, so he couldn’t actually get at the food. I laughed at the futility of his efforts, and figured that was an end to it. But no. Squirrels are wiley. A little while after that I found one of the feeder ports torn off the side of the feeder. I was able to replace it, and I figured it for a fluke. Then I came home one day to find the entire bird feeder upside down, twisted entirely around on its supports, the lid off and all the seed spilled on the ground beneath. That was the last straw. I took the feeder down until I could find something a little more squirrel-proof.

Then Ed gave me a bird feeder for Christmas. It was awesome, built with a cage around the seed with spaces big enough for birds to comfortably get through, but not squirrels. However, I needed something to hang it from. When I went shopping, I found that the store was having a 20% off all wild bird feeding stuff sale. Plus, there was the perfect feeder to take the place of my old one. This one had the perching posts mounted on springs. While birds are light enough to perch and eat, squirrels are too heavy. The perch gives under their weight, dumping them to the ground and coincidentally shutting a trap door across the feeding ports. There was a certain… satisfaction at the thought of thieving squirrels getting dumped. So I got it, along with an arm to fasten it to the deck, and lots of other bird feeding-related stuff. It took a little while for the birds to warm up to it, but pretty soon the gang warfare was on again.

However… yesterday I looked out my kitchen window to see the most horrible sight. A squirrel had found a way to circumvent the anti-squirrel protection. He was perched on the railing of the deck, snagging the bird feeder with one paw, and holding on to it while he stuck his entire head into the feeding port! Oh, I was mad! I used to think squirrels were cute, but all that fur doesn’t deceive me now! Little agents of evil. But they can’t beat me. I have a secret weapon up my sleeve. It’s called ground pepper. See, I’ve been told that birds don’t mind it, but squirrels can’t stand it. I just happen to have an industrial kitchen-sized cannister of it in my pantry, sitting around completely unused (I prefer to grind my pepper fresh when I need it). I marched myself right out to my deck, dumped a bunch of pepper into the top of the feeder, and stirred it in well with a wooden spoon.

Stupid squirrels.

I know it’s a cliche beyond cliches to write about what you’re thankful for on Thanksgiving.  Regardless, sometimes you just gotta embrace your own unoriginality.  So, just in case you wanted to know, these are the things that I am grateful for this year:

  1. Liv. A year ago this time we barely knew each other.  Today we’re living together.  A girl couldn’t ask for a better roommate.  We share the same slightly macabre sense of humor, the same fondness for plain speaking, and the same understanding that the world is a strange and wonderful place.  We’ve only lived together for about five months now, but believe me, they’ve been an eventful five months!  She was with me through the ups and downs, the boy-crankiness, the days when all I could think about was dancing, and all the rest.  She is a great blessing to me, and I am deeply grateful to have her in my life.
  2. My new home. When I moved this summer, it had been six years since I had lived in a place that I could really call my own.  First I was traveling non-stop with a national youth ministry retreat team, then I spent a year back at my parents’ house, then three years with another family first as their nanny and then as a roommate with increasingly little ownership of my living space.  It’s the kind of pressure you don’t notice until it’s released.  To live in a place where my presence is welcomed, not merely tolerated, where people want to know how I am and are willing to rejoice with me in my successes – it’s an amazing thing.  I am deeply grateful to live in a house that is truly my home.
  3. Being able to leave unhealthy relationships. At my old living situation, I was stuck in between a controlling mother and her immature but increasingly rebellious teenage daughter.  I considered it part of the price I paid for living in what seemed an ideal location for school.  The money rent was cheap, but the emotional rent was pretty high, particularly when they were fighting.  I can remember too many times hiding up in my room trying not to listen as they screamed at each other.  Last Christmas the mother was diagnosed with liver cancer, which is killing her.  I moved out in June, and haven’t had very much contact with them since.  Recently I went back to visit, and found out, among other things, that the mother and daughter are choosing to spend their last days fighting viciously with each other.  I am grieving for their short-sightedness, but also so glad that I am not there, and not in the middle of this.  This is one mess it’s not my job to clean up, and I am deeply grateful.
  4. Anna helping me dance better. About this time last year Anna put out the call for people willing to learn how to teach.  I knew that I wasn’t anywhere near the skill level necessary, but I also knew that the university swing club I belonged to needed to start training teachers and I was one of the few even remote possibilities.  One of Anna’s requirements for teachers is that they be serious dancers, committed to constantly improving their dancing, and she’s willing to help them get there.  Last December I was videotaped for the first time, and started coming more regularly to the weekly practice sessions.  I started to work seriously on my Lindy basic, and on Charleston.  I learned partner Charleston, reworked my frame, and began learning how to style and improvise within my dancing without throwing off my lead.  It’s been a great joy to feel myself get better, to experience the pleased reactions of those I dance with, and to finally start being able to have the joyful, playful, fun dances I had always dreamed of having.  Today I am three or four times the dancer I was a year ago, and I am deeply grateful.

I’ve been thinking about Christmas a lot lately. It’s fun to do it now, before the marketing push completely starts up, before the pressure hits, before there’s any urgency to actually do anything about it. It’s all anticipation at this point, no stress or anxiety. No one is blaring Christmas songs in my ears or strictly enforcing the Christmas “cheer.” This is when thinking about Christmas is easy. I like it.

Mostly I’ve been thinking about presents, what I’m going to give which people. (Don’t worry – no spoilers.) This requires some ingenuity because I am more than usually poor this year (I’m your stereotypical Impoverished Student, although I no longer live in an attic garret). The gift I’m most excited about right now is for Uncle Greg. My extended family draws names each year, and I was delighted to get him because he’s one of my favorite uncles. One thing he likes is being introduced to new music, so I decided to make him a set of CDs containing music that I was introduced to or love because it’s music I dance to. I’ll have one CD each for Lindy, Charleston, Balboa, and Westie. The main difficulty is separating out the Charleston and Balboa songs. Although some songs are clearly one or the other, too many could easily go either way, depending on your mood or the types/number of leads available. I’m still working on the playlists for each one, but my rough drafts look something like this:

Lindy
Baby Workout by Jackie Wilson
Movin’ and Groovin’ by Sam Cooke
Smooth Sailing by Ella Fitzgerald
Massachusetts by Gene Krupa
Up A Lazy River by Michael Buble
Jersey Bounce by Ella Fitzgerald
Love Me Or Leave Me by Sammy Davis Jr.
Bop Ting a Ling by Laverne Baker

Charleston
I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate by Madeleine Peyroux
Ballin’ The Jack by Eddie Condon
12th Street Rag by Sidney Bechet
When The Saints Go Marching In by Louis Armstrong

Balboa
Juicy by Better Than Ezra
Honeysuckle Rose by Count Basie
Crazy Baby by Louis Jordan and His Tympani 5
The Sheik of Araby by Sidney Bechet
Buzz, Buzz, Buzz by Jimmie Lunceford

West Coast
Ain’t No Sunshine by Al Green
Signed, Sealed, Delivered by Blue & Stevie Wonder
Be Bop A Lula by Gene Vincent
Buttons by The Pussycat Dolls
Early To Bed by Morphine
Boombastic by Shaggy
Born Under A Bad Sign by Etta James

I think he’ll like it.

My sister Judy, who is one of the most organized women I’ve ever known, just contacted me for my Christmas Wish List for this year. Every year she collects all the wish lists from everyone in the family and compiles them into one big spreadsheet of wish lists, then distributes that list far and wide to whoever might want to give one of us a gift. Sometimes it’s fun seeing how things have changed over the course of a year. Last year my wish list was:

  • A swarm of bees or rabbit from Heifer International, http://www.heifer.org
  • Coffee grinder
  • Small weather radio.
  • Blue or periwinkle moonbeam clock from L.L. Bean
  • Vintage rhinestones (get Leila’s opinion if needed)
  • Train tickets between Dayton and Milwaukee
  • Silly Disney Princess stuff – esp. Snow White
  • Gift cards for Target, Meijer, Cafepress.com, spreadshirt.com, zappos.com
  • Books:
    • Naomi Novik
    • Any volume of the Navarre Study Bible
    • A Chicago Style Manual
    • W.T. Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist
    • Edith Stein, Finite and Eternal Being
    • Berkman, Contemplating Edith Stein
    • A. McKendrick, On Film Making
    • Wendy Shalit, A Return To Modesty
    • Kerouac, A Book of Sketches
    • A good dictionary

This year my list is:

Just in case, you know, you wanted to know…